What They Had

She doesn’t remember that she doesn’t remember!

Year Released : 2019

Director : Elizabeth Chomko

Cast : Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Robert Forster, Blythe Danner, Taissa Farmiga and William Smillie

It is not often that a film is released at multiple cinemas in my native UK and yet seems to be largely unknown, but that is what happened with “What They Had”, a drama about a family trying to cope with a mental illness.

As I’ve set myself a personal target of at least 150 movies seen at the cinema by the end of 2019 (currently at 32, as of March 5th), I immediately booked my tickets when this appeared, even though I knew very little about it, and even after I had booked I didn’t look. It was relatively nice to go in practically blind.

There is probably a good reason why this was largely unknown, and that is a lack of advertising. I work at a cinema and didn’t see a single poster or trailer for this. I suspect this might be one of those movies which should have been straight-to-DVD.


Ruth (Danner) has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years and her family have severe disagreements on how best to treat her. Burt (Forster) feels that they should just continue as they have been, with him being the primary care-giver, whereas their son Nick (Shannon) has sourced a very reputable care home specifically designed for someone with the disease. Bridget (Swank) is unsure which path is best however, just wanting what is best for her mother.

Bridget herself is having marital problems back home, hiding that she doesn’t wear her wedding ring under the guise of her potentially losing it due to her job. She soon attracts the attention of Gerry (Smillie), but a misunderstanding furthers tension between the family members.

So should it have been released at the cinema?

“What They Had” is one of those films that whilst not bad by any stretch, but it just kind of there. It is a movie that I can’t imagine myself ever watching it again following this, even though it was actually good. That being said, I was genuinely surprised that this got a cinema release, mainly because it feels like something that would be  straight-to-DVD. Realistically this only avoided being straight-to-do DVD fodder because of the cast.

Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon are both excellent, as you would expect. Michael Shannon is particularly noteworthy as he makes his character quite likeable, even though he really isn’t for the most part. Shannon’s Nick is one of those types of people that have no issue making sure people know their point of view, often actually being right, but no-one wants to listen because of how they say it, and Shannon captured that.

Films about Alzheimer’s have always sort of put me off watching them as it is quite a worrying disease, putting it nicely. This movie does a great job of portraying the impact that it has on everyone around the person, but sums it up in the quote “she doesn’t remember that she doesn’t remember”.

Despite that, the movie just isn’t particularly gripping. It is less than 100 minutes long, and despite thinking it was relatively decent, not once during the entire movie did I actually feel deeply involved. It is a largely forgettable movie, no pun intended. At the end of the year I’ll be doing my annual rankings and by then I’ll struggle to remember anything significant that happened during the movie. It’s worth a watch, but definitely not multiple times.


Well acted, decently paced and an interesting look at family life during times of illness, “What They Had” is a film I would generally recommend viewing, but I can’t imagine many people will be interested in watching it for a second time following this. It just isn’t that gripping, even though it is good.

Michael Shannon and Hilary Swank carry this film and are probably the only reasons why this film got a cinema release, rather than straight to the shelves at your local supermarket, because other than their inclusion, there isn’t a lot differentiating it from those sort of movies.

Give it a watch, but don’t expect to be gripped.


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