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TIFF 2018 Review: What They Had

A coming home tale that walks familiar territory with emotional swagger.

As her family attempts to deal with her mother’s failing memory, Bridgete (Hilary Swank) returns home with her daughter after a worried call from her brother Nicky (Michael Shannon). Coming home opens the doors of self reflection however, and Bridgete finds herself questioning her life. It sounds like we’re walking through familiar grounds here, and in many ways we are, but What They Had walks with such grace at times that it all feels fresh.

The film’s cinematography stands out at times, but the film largely works as a space for the ensemble to create magic, which unfortunately doesn’t always happen. This is due to the difficulty of the scenes emotionally, as the cast manages to create very believable family situations where often laughter is just hidden pain. It’s also in part due to some spotty moments in dialogue, but Michael Shannon, whose role is the stereotypical asshole uncle, makes the most of the situation and brings his own brilliant air to an otherwise troublesome role. In fact, he manages to steal almost every scene he’s in. Blythe Danner really swells into a grand presence by the end of the film. Her scenes with Swank are hands down the best moments in the film, delivering moments between a mother and daughter that feel honest.

While viewing you’ll feel like the film could have ended much earlier, but it continues to hit emotional notes even after it’s welcome is overstayed, making it a solid emotional offering for the festival.

3.5
Andrew Hamilton

Andrew Hamilton is a Toronto based filmmaker and creative mad man. Legend has it that he spent most of his childhood locked away in a cell beta testing Netflix.