Digging For Fire – Joe Swanberg’s finest directorial accomplishment
I would like to issue a small disclaimer, before I begin my review of Joe Swanberg’s “Digging For Fire”. Mr. Swanberg compiled, for this movie, a cast that is so filled with actors and actresses that I love that I probably would have enjoyed the film if it was just all of them hanging out at a house talking for an hour and a half. From top to bottom the group of performers in this movie are incredible talents. I mean my only complaint was that Lindsay Burdge and Jenny Slate (I was elated to see those two names on the cast list) only had about three minutes of screen time between them. Anyway, now that I have admitted to any biases I may or may not have based on the names on the film’s IMDB page, we can get on with what I thought of the actual movie.
A gun and a bone… That is what Tim (Johnson) brings to his wife Lee (DeWitt), after unearthing them on the hillside next to the home they are staying in, while the owners (clients of Lee’s, who is a yoga instructor) are overseas. Oddly, and fortunately, that setup leads into a movie that is not about a grisly murder or the mishaps of a married couple stumbling upon a burial ground, but one that is about happiness and individuality in a marriage. In particular, a marriage that has become stagnant after parenthood.
Tim and Lee’s relationship face the same problems most marriages do. A loss of passion, money frustrations, and focus leaning towards their son Jude (Jude Swanberg) have lead to them both feeling a loss of connection. That, as it so often does, brings the couple to that “Grass is greener” area, where they are both thinking of the freedoms that they’ve lost and the exciting things they could be doing if they weren’t tied down.
Lee decides that she is going to take Jude, and go to stay with her mother (Judith Light) and Stepfather (A mustacheless Sam Elliott) for the weekend. The two each have their own space to do soul searching and try to reconnect, through working through their internal struggles individually. Tim has some buddies (Mike Birbiglia, Sam Rockwell, Chris Messina, and Padraic Cassidy) and a couple of ladies (Brie Larson and Anna Kendrick) over for some youthful debauchery. In the meantime, he continues his excavation of the hill and makes some unsettling discoveries.
Lee hits the town in search of male approval, and finds it in the eyes of a dashing stanger (Orlando Bloom). They each purge their systems of the things they feel they are missing out on. The only question is will they return to the familiar love, inside their marriage? Swanberg approaches all of these issues intelligently. The film never loses it’s symbolic appeal, and there are good questions raised and in turn answered.
The entire cast knock it out of the park (of course… like I was going to say something else), and the synth-pop score by Dan Romer is wonderful. I wasn’t really surprised by either of those things though. What I was surprised by, and pleasantly so, was the tone that Swanberg set with his approach to the film. Unlike some of his past work (“Happy Christmas”, I’m looking at you) “Digging For Fire” had a resounding message and characters that I not only related to, but I cared about. I really hope this is the direction he is taking his directorial style, and if so sign me up as a huge fan.