A Hilary Swank-Blythe Danner-Michael Shannon-starring melodrama about memory and loss against a snow-raked Chicago Christmas landscape shouldn’t just slink onto Chicago screens with hardly a notice, right? But here comes writer-director Elizabeth Chomko’s “What They Had.” Making features is a harder and harder game, from finance to production to distribution: “What They Had” bears seventeen credited producers, including “Election,” “Cold Mountain,” “Little Miss Sunshine” producer Albert Berger (who briefly co-owned the long-gone Sandburg repertory film house at Dearborn and Division). A 2018 Sundance entry, the shredded gentility is anchored by the innate strengths of Danner, illuminating from within a woman with Alzheimer’s who is leaving her family as much as awareness is leaving her. (Her face is as emblematic as the necessary Chicago skyline itself.) Life’s resentments, unspoken offenses and ample unpleasantness are had by all. Loss, loss, and loss are on the menu, and it’s a smorgasbord of talk. With Robert Forster, Taissa Farmiga, Josh Lucas. 101m. (Ray Pride)
“What They Had” is playing at River East.
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.