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 else.
DIGGING FOR FIRE
Directed by Joe Swanberg
With that enormous cast