For years I’ve griped—sometimes in
these pages—that there are no American movies made for adults. Then along comes
Joe Swanberg’s Digging for Fire, a movie made for adults. Unfortunately,
it’s made for adults who think their first-world problems are somehow
interesting or deep or revelatory.
It’s a shame, too. Look at this cast:
Jake Johnson (who co-wrote the script with Swanberg), Rosemarie DeWitt, Anna
Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Ron Livingston, Mike Birbiglia, Brie Larson, Sam
Rockwell, Jane Adams, Jenny Slate, Chris Messina, Judith Light, Orlando Bloom,
Sam Elliot (sans mustache).
That group of actors is a white
hipster asshole’s wet dream and a not altogether unwelcome group to be sharing
a screen. But there’s something about the banality of the script—a husband
(Johnson) and wife (DeWitt) with a 3-year-old son feeling their lives stretch
in different directions—that keeps Digging for Fire from being the sort
of movie you’d want to watch twice. Or once.
For example, why do the men in these
stories always throw a party for themselves when the wives go away? How boring.
And why do the wives always meet a
hot, hunky guy and sort of cover up their wedding ring? How boring.
Are our fantasies really that
vanilla? Or are Swanberg and Johnson just lazy screenwriters? Or is Swanberg a
lazy, hipster asshole?
“Lazy” may be the wrong word. To
paraphrase Jean Shepherd, he makes movies as quickly as a jackrabbit on a date.
And who knows whether he’s an asshole (though to listen to his interview on WTF
with Marc Maron, he’s certainly self-satisfied). But when you’re making the
same movie over and over, are you really making movies? (That’s a question
worth putting to Woody Allen, too.)
I was a big fan of Swanberg’s Drinking
Buddies. I called it one of the best movies of 2013, and, personally, it’s
one of my favorite films. But somewhere between then and now, Swanberg has
stalled, and improvising movies on 16mm (Happy Christmas) or working
with larger budgets (this flick) isn’t doing a thing for him.
For example, in Digging for Fire,
I’m pretty sure Johnson’s character is having the same conversation with
Larson’s character that his character in Drinking Buddies had with
Olivia Wilde’s character.
Plus, the thing that makes Digging
for Fire seem as if it’s going to be compelling—Johnson finds a human bone
and a rusted revolver in the backyard where he and DeWitt are
housesitting—turns into an excuse to split them up so they may go on their dull
adventures. He invites his friends over for the weekend and keeps digging while
she visits her parents, drops off their kid and goes out. And they experience
life or something, and she looks at Saturn through a telescope. Yeah, OK.
I’m all for movies that mirror real
life (or attempt to mirror real life), but Digging for Fire is so vapid
I can only feel pity for the people who find it interesting. And the things
that Johnson and DeWitt find on their solo journeys that make them want to get
back together—as if you didn’t see that coming—ring false, just like everything
DIGGING FOR FIRE
Santa Fe Reporter