With “Digging For Fire,” Joe Swanberg extends his run of intimate backyard moviemaking to an actual backyard at a summer rental, where a gun, a bone and a telescope set intrigue (and extended conversation) into nifty (if slow-burn) motion. Mid-thirties-life-crisis strikes for Tim (Jake Johnson), a teacher still not settled into the truth that he’s been a father for three years. Rosemarie Dewitt plays his witty wife, Jude Swanberg the son, natch. The estimable critic Bérénice Reynaud has aligned the latest Swanberg with Rohmer, and “Digging” extends his streak of pictures that stream with genial dialogue, superficially breezy, yet where emotional currents deepen. Flirtation and romantic misprisions alternate with hints of murderous mystery. And dialogue like “You can’t just dig up someone’s yard. I think it’s illegal,” and “Am I a couple or still a person?” While directed improvisation can stimulate verbal felicity, more is at stake when working with actors of the caliber he now attracts—Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Mike Birbiglia and, especially, Brie Larson. I like where Swanberg came from. I like where he’s going even more. His first picture in 35mm is lovingly lit, subtly but sometimes boldly, by Ben Richardson (“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Drinking Buddies”). With Judith Light, Sam Elliott, Melanie Lynskey, Jenny Slate. 85m. (Ray Pride)
“Digging for Fire” opens at the Music Box, Friday, August 21. The trailer is below.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.