Tag Archives: Joe Swanberg

Digging Your Scene

Digging for Fire

by George Wolf

A strong ensemble cast and a crafty, improvisational script make Digging for Fire a new high water mark for a filmmaker inching cautiously closer to the mainstream.

For over a decade, Joe Swanberg has been a busy boy, serving as writer, director, actor, editor, cinematographer and more on various obscure shorts, mumblecore staples, and indie favorites. He’s probably best known for his role in the slasher flick You’re Next, but Swanberg’s 2013 effort Drinking Buddies earned him plenty of notice as writer/director with a refreshing voice.

Digging for Fire‘s cast is full of Swanberg favorites, led by Jake Johnson, who also helped write the script. Johnson plays Tim, who is staying with his wife Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) and their young son Jude (Jude Swanberg, Joe incredibly cute son) In a swanky house they don’t own.

Lee teaches yoga in LA, and while some of her clients are away shooting a movie, Lee and her happy young family agree to house sit, where Tim promptly finds an old bone and a rusty gun while checking out the grounds.

As the weekend approaches, Lee leaves the boys at home to visit her parents, and then have a girls’ nite with an old friend. Tim promises to do the taxes while she’s gone, but he can’t get his mind off of his strange discovery. Once some friends come over and beer starts flowing, seeing what other secrets might be buried in the yard starts sounding like a great idea.

Both Lee and Tim find plenty of temptation in their respective adventures, and Digging for Fire becomes a quietly insightful take on managing priorities throughout the changing phases of life.

Swanberg’s camera often drifts without anchor, perfect for the bevy of recognizable faces that come and go (Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Sam Elliott, Orlando Bloom and more), some for only one scene. You can see why these talents are drawn to such a free-form filmmaking structure, and all are able to carve out memorable characters that influence the choices Lee and Tim are pondering.

Though obvious, Swanberg’s extended metaphor is effective, as responsibilities of marriage and family clash with the yearning for lost freedom. If you keep digging for something, you just might find it, and that can be playing with fire.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

 

I’ll Have What She’s Having

 

by George Wolf

 

Hey look! It’s that hottie and that cutie, and the guy from Office Space and that other guy from TV in a romantic comedy about drinking beer. Nice!

Well, as it turns out, Drinking Buddies may not be quite what you’re expecting, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than a by the numbers rom-com with a comfortable ending designed to send the folks home happy, writer/director Joe Swanberg delivers a loose, observational drama that focuses on small moments in unfulfilled lives.

Olivia Wilde takes the lead as Kate, who works at a Chicago brewery with her best buddy Luke (Jake Johnson from TV’s New Girl). Though Luke is talking marriage with his longtime girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Kate has just started seeing Chris (Ron Livingston), the co workers continue to nurture their “why don’t they just do it already” friendship.

Though not quite a full on mumblecore project, Drinking Buddies certainly passes through the neighborhood. Many scenes meander with a highly improvised, aimless approach, while Swanberg keeps the film bathed in the gritty look of persistent realism.

The action rarely gets beyond hanging out, drinking, and talking about relationships, but you slowly come to appreciate how little the characters do what you think they will. After the two couples spend a weekend at Chris’s lakeside cabin, certain priorities are re-evaluated, and the film’s soft focus on the quest for knowing what you want becomes increasingly clear.

The actors all mesh well, with Wilde giving her most assured performance yet. Kate is a damaged soul, and Wilde is able to get beneath the “one of the guys” party girl persona to reveal¬† layers of vulnerability, hurt and anger.

Though it’s far from the When Harry Met Sally treatment of platonic friendships,¬† Drinking Buddies has a charm, wit and wisdom that may make it the perfect reboot for today.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars