Vernon Film Society screens profound family drama

What They Had screens Jan. 16 at Galaxy Cinemas

Linda Wills/Special to The Morning Star

The Vernon Film Society will screen their second feature of 2019 on Wednesday, Jan. 16 at the Galaxy Cinemas.

First-time writer and director Elizabeth Chomko’s film What They Had zooms in on one Chicago family whose commitments to one another become frayed when the matriarch is overtaken by Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes sound bodies and minds have ways of deteriorating over time, and the onset of a debilitating illness can test a couple’s commitment. Toss in grown children, friends and other family members, and the problems grow exponentially.

What They Had has a lived-in ring of truth that will be instantly recognizable to any caregiver, spouse, child, or other loved one who has experienced similar issues. Chomko developed her script (an Academy Nicholls Fellowship-winner) from personal experience, which makes many of the story’s details seem honest and precise. What distinguishes this film from many others with similar issues are the authentic and believable performances of the principal characters.

The movie’s precipitating crisis occurs in the opening sequence as Ruth (Blythe Danner) rises from her bed and ventures out into the falling snow. We learn later that she suffers from Alzheimer’s and the condition is worsening, although her devoted husband Burt (Robert Forster) won’t relinquish her care to others while steadfastly denying the true depth of Ruth’s mental decay. Daughter Bridget (Hilary Swank), a Los Angeles chef with her own marital woes, arrives with her teenage daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga) to assess the deteriorating situation. Nicky (Michael Shannon), the sibling who stayed home, bears the brunt of caring for his parents and the strain is adversely affecting him.

For anyone who has lived, loved, suffered, and grown within a family, What They Had offers many rewards.

What They Had screens at 5:15 p.m. and 7:45 p..m on Wednesday, Jan. 16 at the Galaxy Cinemas. Tickets are available one week in advance at the Bean Scene for $7. Cash only. Rated PG.


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