Hilary made a sophisticated chic appearance at the Ralph Lauren Fall Winter 2018 runway show in New York on Monday. The actress wore a shimmery silver turtleneck sweater tucked into tailored grey trousers and draped a long coordinating coat over the top.
“There were so many reasons I felt compelled to tell the story,” first-time director Elizabeth Chomko said of her film What They Had at Deadline’s Sundance Studio, “but the biggest one, I think, especially in hindsight, is the awareness that memories are a gift and that they’re precious.”
Memory loss is a key tenet in Chomko’s film, which she also wrote. The story follows a family dealing with the fallout of its matriarch’s descent into Alzheimer’s as estranged siblings Nick (Michael Shannon) and Bridget (Hilary Swank) are forced back together to make some difficult decisions about their parent’s future.
Speaking alongside Chomko were castmembers Shannon, Swank, Taissa Farmiga and Blythe Danner, who plays the dementia-stricken Ruth.
“The film is about a lot of things,” Chomko added, “but it’s certainly about coming of age at every stage of life and loving and letting go.”
Describing his character as “not quite sure of his place in the world,” Shannon said, “The one thing he’s very devoted to is his family and his parents and he’s kind of stayed behind and kept an eye on them.”
Conversely, Swank’s character seems at first glance to have it all together with her marriage and children, but inside she’s overstretched. “She’s holding herself together,” said Swank. “I think it’s really the plight of many women, because by nature we’re nurturers, and we give and we give and we give and sometimes it’s to the point where it’s not to our best interests.”
In essence, What They Had is a story of a normal family, with all the nuance inherent in that. “There’s a lot of stuff at play here,” Swank said. “There’s a lot of onion layers, there’s dysfunction, which there is in life, in every single family.”
Introducing her exquisite debut feature, What They Had, at Sundance, the writer-director Elizabeth Chomko addressed the movie’s initiating event — a woman with Alzheimer’s reaching the last-but-one stage, number six — only obliquely. Chomko painted a larger picture.
“Memory,” she said, “is a gift we’re given. I don’t want to take it for granted.” And so, in the film, the camera occasionally lingers on photos and home movies of Ruth (Blythe Danner) and her husband, Bert (Robert Forster), as they were in their 20s and 30s; and Ruth is tasked to carry a picture in a locket that can remind her, fleetingly, who the man across the table from her is.
Before I get too lachrymose, I should mention that the movie has a lot of great laughs: The characters speak their minds and then some. The main couple isn’t the old one but a pair of middle-aged siblings, Bridget (Hilary Swank), and Nicky (Michael Shannon), who call each names like “turkey” and “dingle-fairy” and whose conversations often end in shouting matches. Bridget has flown in from Los Angeles to take some of the burden off Nicky and has brought her daughter, Emma (Taissa Farmiga), who’s been thrown out of her college dorm for drinking and is almost as prickly as her uncle. Nicky is being eaten alive by multiple stressors. He has poured all his money into a high-toned bar that his father has never deigned to visit. And he feels that he alone bears the responsibility for his mother’s well-being. He’s furious that Bert won’t put her in a facility for people with dementia, even after she has wandered into the snow in a nightgown and boarded a train. Bert is a stubborn cuss.
Actually, “cuss” is the exact wrong word. A devout Catholic, Bert abhors his kids’ swearing and believes it’s his duty is to care for his wife until the bitter end. Also, he adores her. The subtext (and Über-text) of What They Had is the impact of such an overbearing father on his children’s self-esteem. Bert compelled (impelled, bullied) Bridget to marry an up-and-comer she didn’t love and now can barely stand. (Seen very briefly and played by Josh Lucas, the husband seems a nice enough fellow but dull.) Bert also insists on belittling Nicky — a bar owner — by calling him a bartender. The crux of Nicky and Bridget’s arguments is that she has power of attorney over her parents but won’t stand up to them. Nicky hectors her, she squirms, Nicky hectors her, she squirms, and nothing happens.Read More
Though its causes remain shrouded in mystery, Alzheimer’s Disease is unmistakably on the rise, and will become an ever-growing public issue as senior populations and longevity itself each continue to expand. We’re still at an early stage in terms of its dramatization, however — apart from “Away From Her” and “Still Alice,” there haven’t been that many notable screen depictions of Alzheimer’s, or of progressive dementia in general.
Actor-playwright Elizabeth Chomko’s debut feature “What They Had” is a particularly welcome addition to that so-far slim canon, since it finds ways to bring considerable humor to a grim subject, without trivializing it. This satisfying drama provides excellent roles for a fine cast, particularly Michael Shannon, Hilary Swank and Robert Forster. Highlighting the awards-worthiness of those turns will probably beat the best path to commercial success, particularly in theatrical release. Read More
Hilary is currently at the Sundance Film Festival to promot her newest film What They Had. Hilary and the cast attended IndieWire Studio presented by DropBox and The Hollywood Reporter 2018 Sundance Studio. They also did Deadline Studio Portraits.