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January 9, 2016

Digging for Fire

by Franz Patrick


Digging for Fire (2015)
★ / ★★★★

Married couple Lee and (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Tim (Jake Johnson) agree to house-sit a multimillion-dollar house belonging to an actress, Lee’s client, who is shooting a movie in Budapest. The day after they move in, while exploring a relatively untouched area of land, Tim comes across a bone and a gun. Thrilled by his discovery, he runs to his wife and tells her that he is convinced there are dead bodies buried nearby. However, Lee, concerned that they are overstepping certain boundaries, tells Tim that he should stop with the excavation and focus on being there as a family.

Written by Joe Swanberg and Jake Johnson, “Digging for Fire” is a severely anemic picture, a bore from the moment it begins right until its nondescript, platitudinous ending. The premise sounds mildly interesting—hinting at a possible murder mystery—but do not be fooled: It is merely an attempt at a marriage drama with nothing interesting or insightful to say about modern relationships and the tribulations that come with it.

The script lacks dramatic pull. Because it never shows why Lee and Tim should or should not be together prior to them going on their separate journeys toward would-be realizations, it is hard to care about them and think about what might be going on in their heads as they consider choices that could lead to transgressions. And although it touches upon relatable problems like the couple having money issues about half a dozen times, these are so superficial that it is laughable. Not once do we buy these actors as real people. Thus, for example, when DeWitt’s character considers whether or not to buy an expensive leather jacket, I saw a successful actress pretending like she doesn’t have enough funds in the bank.

The film is rife with scenes that can be considered as junk or time-fillers. For instance, when Lee and her son go to see Grandma and Pop-Pop, Tim throws a little get-together with his male friends (Mike Birbiglia, Chris Messina, Sam Rockwell). It wouldn’t have been a problem if the entire charade hadn’t been so dull. We watch them drink beer, talk about women, swim the pool, and dig up more bones but there is no sense of real camaraderie among them. One wonders what the writers wish to communicate. Is it that Tim misses male companionship so badly? If so, the picture does not provide a good reason why. His friends are written to be so generic, it is a challenge to keep our eyes open as we watch them interact.

Eventually, the movie is reduced to a recognition game. That is, plenty of familiar faces drop in and out: Melanie Lynskey, Jenny Slate, Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Ron Livingston, Anna Kendrick, among others. What do these people have in common? They are real performers who have been in much better dramatic films. Here, they are not used wisely or efficiently. They might as well not have appeared at all. It probably would have made the film stronger because perhaps the focus would have been on the couple rather than the people they come across.

It is difficult not to feel robbed after watching “Digging for Fire,” directed by Joe Swanberg, because we keep waiting for something interesting to happen but it never delivers. The couple are boring together and apart, the people that share a connection with them are cardboard cutouts, and the subject of marriage is not delved into in an honest way. Just about everything about the film rings false.

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