“Digging for Fire”
Tim (Jake Johnson) is a public-school teacher who is married to Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt), a yoga instructor. Lee has a client that is off to make a movie, so the couple and their young son, Jude (Jude Swanberg) are house-sitting in the hills of Malibu. The house has a pool, a tennis court and lots of wooded property for the family to have fun exploring. While Lee and their son do yoga by the pool, Tim goes off and tours the property. He soon finds on the wooded grounds a weather worn hand gun and what could possibly be a human bone. Even though Tim is excited by his new find (thinking he will be a hero with the local police), Lee convinces him to leave well enough alone and not dig up her client’s vast brush filled backyard.
Lee decides that she needs some time as an adult and makes plans to stay at her mother’s house (Judith Light). Killing two birds with one stone, she takes their son along, so she can go out on the town with a friend of hers while Jude spends time with her mother. Tim has been given the task of getting their taxes organized, something, that, of course, he is dreading. As soon as Lee leaves, Tim invites his buddies over to have hamburgers, beer, and maybe smoke some pot. After leaving Jude off with the grandparents, Lee heads for her friend’s house (Melanie Lynskey) for some wine before heading out for a “girls night.” However, her friend can’t go drinking, so Lee is left to go out on her own.
Meanwhile, some of Tim’s pals have shown up. After a few brews, hamburgers and games of catch in the pool, Tim displays the gang the gun and the bone. They instantly volunteer for searching the yard for more bones and clues. They enthusiastically start to search the yard, immediately making a big mess. Besides finding a license plate from 1957, they don’t find a whole lot else. The evening then gets interesting. Too interesting for uptight Phil (Mike Birbiglia), who quickly leaves when Ray (Sam Rockwell) shows up with two women (Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson) and a lot of cocaine. While apart, Lee and Tim are about to go down separate paths in the next couple of days that will force them to make decisions that could affect their lives together as a couple.
Director Joe Swanberg, who co-wrote the script with leading man Johnson, brings us a tale of a modern couple who are struggling to keep their identities separate from their marriage. Both characters feel as if they have lost something of themselves by becoming a couple, especially after the birth of the son. Their lives have become meshed together, and both wonder if there will ever be a point when they feel like their old selves again. It’s a marriage that, while not in trouble, is showing that there might be some serious problems brewing. They argue about whether they should take her mother’s money and enroll their son in a private pre-school. In fact, the subject of money keeps coming up; whether it’s comparing their duplex to the massive house, they are sitting for, the taxes that Tim has been given to work on, or the idea that they can splurge on buying clothing for themselves instead of their kid. All this is compounded by the fact that almost as soon as they arrive at the house, they are looking at ways to get away from each other. This is a couple that obviously loves each other, but the marriage is starting to fray at the seams a bit. There is a running bit, where Lee is beginning to read a book called “Passionate Marriage.” That book follows her around, as it seems everyone has it on their bookshelves, just mocking her.
While I liked this film, I didn’t love it like I did one of Swanberg’s earlier films “Drinking Buddies” which paired up Anna Kendrick with Jake Johnson. It felt that film connected with the leads much better than this movie. It’s possible that some of that disconnect comes with such a large cast. It’s almost as if Swanberg wanted to conduct an “All-Star” Indie film; the cast includes such small film stalwarts as Kendrick, Larson, Rockwell, Lynskey, and Chris Messina. Even Orlando Bloom, as what else, a possible love interest for Rosemarie DeWitt’s character shows up in the film. I kept waiting for Parker Posey, the all-time “Indie Queen” to show up; as I was sure Swanberg would figure out how to put her in the film as well.
The script does have an excellent ear for dialog, though I know that some of that dialog is improvised, especially the scenes where Tim is hanging out with his buddies drinking beer on the porch. Both Johnson and DeWitt have an exceptional presence on the screen. Johnson allows Tim to feel real and a person who has overall good intentions for his family. DeWitt shines a little more on the screen than Johnson, but I think her character is just a bit more complicated and self-involved. DeWitt and Johnson have a good presence together, making us feel that they have been a couple for quite a while. I like the chemistry of DeWitt and Johnson with their possible love interests even better. Johnson and Larson work well of each other, making their scenes stand out, as Larson’s character becomes Tim’s primary partner in crime as they look for more bones on the property. Orlando Bloom shows up to become DeWitt’s character’s knight in shining armor, as he takes a tumble when saving her from a drunken man at a bar that hits on her. Of the rest of the supporting cast, Sam Rockwell, delights as the “fly in the ointment” friend, who lives for stirring up trouble.
I enjoyed this film, but I would have preferred that “Digging for Fire” had a little less of its vast cast, letting us explore in-depth the main characters. It’s a short film and with such a large cast, some of the characters are gone before we even notice them. It’s an interesting, light film that while the plot is rather superficial, it does explore the cracks in a couple’s relationship. We get to see if those cracks become mended or if those cracks become massive fissures that a marriage ultimately can’t survive. My Rating: Bargain Matinee
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
“Digging for Fire” is playing exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
For More of Mike’s reviews and interviews click here