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What They Had,

directed by Elizabeth Chomko

(R, 1 hour, 41 minutes)

Elizabeth Chomko's feature debut What They Had has good things going for it, including a remarkable cast. It has moments that push back against easy sentimental reaction. It's getting good reviews. It's just not as good as it could have been. The story feels more trite than other treatments of Alzheimer's dramas.

What They Had pales beside Sarah Polley's 2006 feature debut Away From Her. It's not as effective as 2014's Still Alice. Tamara Jenkins' scarifying The Savages (2007) covers much the same ground. What They Had is far more predictable. The beats just fall into place.

Still, it is good to see Blythe Danner and Robert Forster. She, as Ruth, is the ailing one, leaving her bed in the middle of the night to wander through Chicago in the snow. He, as Burt, is her stubborn husband, insistent on keeping her at home despite her inevitable slipping away.

Son Nick (Michael Shannon) is the realist -- Ruth needs around-the-clock care that can only be provided by professionals in a secure environment. So Nick calls his sister Bridget (Hilary Swank) in California. She rushes to Chicago with her college-age daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga) to confront the old man. Or maybe not.

In close quarters over Christmas, members of the family rub against one another, airing grievances and confessing secrets. It's all filmed in a handsome style that emphasizes the curious tastefulness of the working-class milieu.

By no means exploitative or crass, What They Had feels a little too safe, a little too pat. No doubt Chomko will do better work. She's probably not quite satisfied with this one.

An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn (R, 1 hour, 48 minutes) A rollicking, unpredictable comedy in which a lackluster marriage gets even worse when a mysterious man from Lulu Danger's (Aubrey Plaza, always fun to watch) past arrives in town for a one-night-only performance. With Emile Hirsch, Craig Robinson, Jemaine Clement, Matt Berry; directed by Jim Hosking.

The Oath (R, 1 hour, 33 minutes) This dark comedy concerns the effects of a polarizing White House policy -- requiring citizens to sign a loyalty oath to the president -- that pits already high-strung family members against one another during the course of a combative Thanksgiving dinner. With Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, John Cho, Carrie Brownstein; directed by Barinholtz.

Mid90s (R, 1 hour, 25 minutes) A roughly sketched outline of a comedy with decent dialogue but little style in which 13-year-old Stevie -- tentative, insecure and awkward -- is growing up in Los Angeles in the 1990s, where he escapes a disruptive home by hanging out with pals he meets at a skate shop. With Sunny Suljic, Alexa Demie, Gio Balicia, Lucas Hedges; directed by Jonah Hill.

Monsters and Men (R, 1 hour, 36 minutes) John David Washington (Denzel's son) is everywhere these days, including front and center in this tense racially-charged cop drama set in Bedford-Stuyvesant where a white police officer is caught on video shooting a teenage street hustler, a situation that has a lasting effect on others. With Chante Adams, Rob Morgan; directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green.

What They Had movie poster

MovieStyle on 01/11/2019

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