Blythe Danner’s family comes home for Christmas after she has an Alzheimer’s episode in What They Had, a name so forgettable it’s almost appropriate.
Alzheimer’s Episode might be more apt a title still given the televisual nature of Elizabeth Chomko’s debut, a heavy-handed family affair that’s like sitting through a 100-minute argument. She doesn’t let dynamics develop or tension build, instead having her cast simply yell at each other. Fortunately surly king Michael Shannon is on hand, along with impressive turns from Robert Forster and Hilary Swank.
A Michael Shannon movie where he’s not the one losing his marbles is something of a novelty, but this is more of a Sleepy than a Weepy. Compared to the brittle sensitivity of Still Alice or Amour, the turgid family drama feels like Stilted Alice. You can see the cogs turning and grinding to a halt long before the ending, which involves the worst closing visual metaphor since Vice and is made all the more jarring by every previous scene being totally literal although never particularly natural.
Wonderfully performed but painfully written, What They Had is a stark reminder that less is Amour.