In a cinematic world of superheroes and romantic comedies, “What They Had” is refreshingly real and honest. When it is estimated that dementia affects one in 14, odds are you either know someone who has it or you know someone whose family is affected by it. This movie captures the tough decisions, heart breaking realizations, and comical interludes.
Ruth (Blythe Danner), who suffers the late stages of Dementia, sneaks out of her Chicago townhouse on a snowy night, headed for her childhood home. Burt (Robert Forster), her loving and devoted husband, can’t find her and in his panic contacts his children; Nick and Bridget. The family swarms to the hospital where Ruth is brought for treatment, and viewers get the first glimpse of the family dynamic and the issues real families must deal with daily.
Nick (Michael Shannon) lives near his parents and has been pressuring his dad to move his mom into a care facility for quite some time. Nick’s surly demeanor is perfectly played by Shannon, and his side story involves a long-term girlfriend pressuring marriage, and a bar he owns which he has dumped all his money into and which his father has never bothered to visit. Bridget (Hilary Swank) lives in California and flies home to figure out next steps as she has power of attorney. Bridget’s indecisiveness and seemingly favorite status drives much of the dialogue between she and Nick and provides much of the comic relief a subject like this needs.
A movie dealing with late stage dementia could be viewed as heavy and depressing, however, beautifully thought out scenes of tenderness and comedy break up the movie and provide viewers moments of smiling and laughter. In one scene Nick confesses to Bridget that their mom hit on him, and in another Ruth tells the family she is expecting a baby.
I would highly recommend this movie, to viewers of all ages. It is a brief peak into what many of us will deal with one day, and a glimmering hope that we will find love and laughter in small moments. “What They Had” is rated R due to language and brief sexual reference. The movie runs 101 minutes and is set for release January 8 to Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon.
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