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Sundance 2018 Review: “What They Had” (2018) ★★★★★


Blythe Danner and Hilary Swank appear in What They Had by Elizabeth Chomko, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Bleecker Street. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

How much do we know about the human mind and their memories? How many memories can a mind store? And why at some point in our lives the memories of our experiences and our loved ones – what we know and remember – suddenly vanishes like it has never happened? What I have described, the scientists have named Alzheimer’s disease. Practically, everything that one has in their life – their happy or sad days, their wedding, the birth of children – it all disappears from their memory. In her directorial debut “What they had”, the director Elizabeth Chomko tackles this very painful subject, when the past and present come together, and one has to confront what hurts the most. Her characters have to make a very hard final decision.

Every character created by Chomko has to face their own dilemma in this film. It all starts with Ruth (Blythe Danner) who is suffering Alzheimer’s disease and who leaves the house alone into a blizzard. Luckily, she is found safe and alive. This makes Nicky (Michael Shannon) give a call to his sister Bridget (Hilary Swank) who is the one to make the final decision and sign the papers to send their mother into a proper facility where she can get professional care. Bridget struggles with this decision. She refuses to do it since her heart is against it. Her father Burt (Robert Foster) also opposes Nick’s idea. Burt believes he is the only one who can provide Ruth with the best care she needs.

As the family members find themselves in a storm of arguments and reasonable doubts, each of them has to face their own regrets from the past. Nicky owns a bar, but cannot make a make a step forward toward building a relationship with the love of his life. Bridget takes her husband (Josh Lucas) for granted and does not appreciate his love and genuine care. At the same time, we see that he loves Bridget almost as much as her father Burt still loves Ruth, even though she does not remember him anymore.

As the story unfolds, we realize that here the Alzheimer plays a metaphorical role for Nicky, Bridget, and her daughter Emma, who wants to quit college, the same way as her mother did years ago. As you watch these richly written characters, beautiful performances, you realize how important is to cherish every moment, appreciate the reality more than fantasy, and care about people, who will always be by our side in the sickness, happiness and even death.

In conclusion, “What They Had” is an overwhelmingly touching film about one family that has to make a trip down the memory lane. They are full of hope that with making a right decision they can extract something important out of it. It is just the matter of stepping onto the right path to learn the meaning of what they have and what expects them ahead of the road.

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