What They Had introduces us to its main character Bridget (Hilary Swank) while she’s out on a run. You see, Bridget is someone too afraid to face her problems in life, so she runs away. Now in mid-life, Bridgfet is unfulfilled. This is the brand of on-the-nose metaphors the film peddles in.
Writer/director Elizabeth Chomko’s movie is at times broad and predictable but also heartfelt and deeply considered. It hits all the required dramedy beats but opens a window to the world of Alzheimer’s that films don’t often depict.
On Christmas eve, Ruth (Blythe Danner) crawls out of bed and wanders off into the cold Chicago night. Her husband Burt (Robert Forster) alerts their children, Nicky (Michael Shannon) and Bridget who join together in the family home to sort the incident out. Ruth’s mind has deteriorated to the point it’s not safe keeping her at home. Burt and his bad heart can hardly take the stress, but their adult children can barely manage their own lives. A special care facility makes the most sense, but Burt won’t give up the love of his life without a fight.
It’s impossible to watch this film and not put yourself in the characters’ positions – either as the sick person or their distressed family. Even when a scene ratchets up the tension, the storytelling feels grounded, relatable, and earnest. Chomko transforms what could be a formulaic tear-jerker into a bittersweet family drama loaded with dark humour, poignant insights, and outstanding performances.