Run time: 101 mins
A touching portrait of a family affected by Alzheimer’s, What They Had delves into the difficulties of deciding what to do for the best.
Drawing from her own grandparents’ marriage, Elizabeth Chomko’s debut feature is a nuanced and compassionate exploration of how dementia affects the whole family. When Ruth (Blythe Danner) goes for a walk in the middle of the night, wandering around in a Chicago snowstorm wearing only a nightgown, her husband Burt (Robert Forster) is terrified when he can’t find her. Fortunately found unharmed in a hospital, the crisis prompts their children Nicky and Bridget (the ever reliable Michael Shannon and Hilary Swank) to come together. With Bridget’s sulky daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga) in tow, a doctor advises the family to put Ruth into a care home – or what he calls a “memory centre”. Aware of the realities of care homes after Ruth’s own experience as a senior-care nurse, Burt is adamant that his wife should stay at home with him. A painful decision to make, the family grapple with Ruth’s future, while her past is cruelly fading from memory.
(Research Rachel Williams) A storyline now all too familiar, which luckily humour lifts, in just the right places.