The line between immaturity and adulthood isn’t a fine one. It comes in stages, and it’s wiggly, and it can differ from person to person. Writer/director Joe Swanberg’s latest film explores the idea and its ramifications through a tale about looking for treasure in our past and discovering what’s valuable in our present.
Tim (Jake Johnson, who co-wrote with Swanberg) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) are happily married and parents to a precocious son named Jude (Jude Swanberg), and they get a minor break from life when one of her wealthy yoga clients invites the family to house-sit their Hollywood Hills home. They discover a gun and a possibly human bone buried in the backyard, but while Tim wants to dig deeper Lee would rather he focus on getting their taxes done.
The two part ways for the weekend – she heads out to visit her parents and friends, and he invites his own friends over to help him excavate. Neither of them find what they’re looking for exactly, but there’s a chance they might just find exactly what they need.
The gun and bone tease something far more dangerous and exciting than what Swanberg is ultimately interested in with Digging for Fire, and instead their worth is almost entirely relegated to the realm of setup and metaphor. That’s okay though as it’s the characters who compel our attention as they navigate realizations and opportunities like minefields. It’s a lazy river kind of journey to be sure, but while it occasionally diverts in a less rewarding direction it never fails to correct course and keep moving forward.
Tim’s weekend adventure sees the most action as a motley crew of friends arrive with drugs, loose ladies and past baggage in tow. They join him in his great dig, and while some are equally enthusiastic others see it as a minor distraction or an unwise activity (ie playing with fire). He’s looking backward for excitement to a time before he had to be a responsible dad and husband, but the digging and his renewed exposure to certain friends from his past serve to teach him far more about the present and the future.
Lee meanwhile sees her own friend bail on her only to discover her own adventure alongside a motorcycle-riding stranger played by Orlando Bloom. Attention from an unlikely source, freedom from her motherly duties and the appeal of greener grass just beyond the fence bring her down a similar road to her husband’s, and like his it’s a necessary trip destined to affect her return home.
Swanberg’s casts over his past few films have become just as commonplace and communal as his themes, and while the lackadaisical nature of the film would (probably) still work with less recognizable faces it benefits greatly from these particular ones. Johnson and DeWitt are both fantastically at home with the wit and the warmth, and they’re joined by a talent pool that includes Mike Birbiglia, Sam Elliott, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Ron Livingston, Melanie Lynskey, Chris Messina, Chris Messina’s penis, Sam Rockwell and Jenny Slate.
Digging for Fire may not say anything revelatory, but the realization it imparts is no less valuable for it. The journey is a relaxed one with friendly faces and familiar stops, and by the time it ends it may just leave you with a strong desire to take a shower with your significant other. And that’s not too shabby.
The Upside: Tremendous cast; funny, sweet, honest look at accepting adulthood
The Downside: Occasionally meanders and loses focus; somewhat lightweight
Related Topics: Sundance