Digging for Fire, 2015.
Directed by Joe Swanberg.
Starring Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Anna Kendrick, Sam Rockwell, Sam Elliott, Chris Messina, Ron Livingston, and Jude Swanberg.
The discovery of a bone and a gun send a husband and wife on separate adventures over the course of a weekend.
Digging for Fire is somewhat of a bait and switch; the brief synopsis from the studio above market the film as husband and father Tim (Jake Johnson) unintentionally stumbling across both a buried gun and potential human bone while doing some gardening at the house of the friend he, his wife Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt), and toddler child (actually played by director Joe Swanberg’s son, Jude Swanberg) are vacationing at during their absence, and this discovery triggering an already expanding rift in their marriage. You can’t say they lied, but the summary sure is misleading.
After being pestered by his wife to leave the mystery alone, the couple begin debating about other important life subjects; namely whether their son should go to an expensive private school that would require them to borrow money from the in-laws, or a public school where Tim coincidentally teaches Gym class. The constant bickering sees them separate for a weekend; the kid is dropped off to stay with the grandparents, Lee visits old friends, while Tim has the somewhat isolated lodge to himself, which he uses to throw a party with instead of finishing taxes like a proper adult.
What ensues is essentially a half-baked version of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. During their separate journeys of self-discovery, both come across the temptation of adultery, and ponder sacrifices that must be made for marriage to work, and how to rekindle the spark, AKA Digging for Fire.
The problem is that there is nothing new here and the execution isn’t strong enough to mitigate those shortcomings. While it does have the naturally charismatic Jake Johnson and an above average performance from Rosemarie DeWitt, there is little here in the form of acting. Digging for Fire has an absolutely loaded cast full of recognizable names, but does nothing with them; it’s a movie where Anna Kendrick shows up for five minutes to get half-naked for a swim. What is the point and what did her presence add to this movie?
Orlando Bloom and Brie Larson fare better thanks to their role of playing infidelity interests and generally having a bit more character and dialogue to work with, but that’s it. That might be stretching it as well; it could just be Orlando Bloom’s charm and the severely underrated acting chops of Brie Larson giving those characters the illusion of depth.
Everyone else is just white noise leaving you wondering why they are present. Even though some of the conversations between Tim and his highly immature alcohol/drug loving buddies make for some natural off-the-cuff exchanges, they are still adding nothing to the proceeds. It’s like Joe Swanberg just jotted down a list of names that he wanted to work with and gave them all bit parts without any thought of how to make each individual stand out. Again, Anna Kendrick is in this movie for five minutes smoking some pot and swimming in a pool. Easiest paycheck ever?
Back to the buried treasure, it’s nothing more than a red herring that creates initial intrigue, which slowly withers away like everything else positive about Digging for Fire. I’m all for swerves but this movie simply goes nowhere interesting. The only fascinating aspect is that Joe Swanberg has depicted a reality where many strangers are kind (most notably is a scene with a woman urging Lee to come look at Saturn through her telescope), which is nice because it’s nice to be removed from a cynical state of mind regarding the morality of society.
It’s admirable that Digging for Fire wants to dive into the complexities of marriage and parenthood life, but it gets sidetracked into a clusterfuck of largely unimportant characters coming and going. There are also far better films in recent years that engage both single citizens and couples to discuss what they want out of being tied to another soul, that also explore human drama with more grace and believability. All we are left with is four great performances from the leads and co-leads. We’ve seen this movie before, we know how it ends, and the writing/direction isn’t strong enough to make us overlook its flaws.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook