Digging For Fire (2015 Sundance)

4 Feb

Joe Swanberg is a bit of an enigma. On one hand, he is known for his nasty bad-guy characters from recent horror films like V.H.S., Proxy and You’re Next! On the other hand, his work as a director fits nicely into the mumblecore fare, with films like Happy Christmas and Drinking Buddies about as far away from the horror genre as you can get. When I first read the discription for his latest Sundance Film Festival entry Digging For Fire, I was expecting something with a bit more thrills (after all, the film’s premise revolves around a man digging up a bone and a gun from someone’s backyard), but I left feeling uplifted but slightly underwhelmed.

The main protagonists here are Lee (played by an always enjoyable Rosemarie DeWitt) who is married to slacker husband Tim (Jake Johnson doing his thing). Lee is a yoga instructor who is trusted by her boss to watch an expensive house while she is away. While Lee is out doing business, Tim takes up the responsibility of preparing the couple’s tax returns with their toddler son (played by Joe Swanberg’s real life son Jude) to keep him company. Of course Tim does what any good slacker husband would do and invites his buddies over for a few drinks and to enjoy their host’s expensive swimming pool. Thier drunken night together leads to a discovery of certain artifacts buried deep under the earth, and this soon starts an obsessive Tim on a journey to solve the mystery.

Aesthetically, Digging For Fire is pretty solid thanks to a wonderful soundtrack from Dan Romer (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and cinematography from Ben Richardson (The Fault in our Stars); together, they create a distinct tone for the film that is situated somewhere between romance, adventure and cynicism. Like many films of his contemporaries (the Duplass brothers or Andrew Bujalski come to mind), Swanberg’s narrative fits into the no-man’s-land between comedy, romance, and family drama. Unlike other mumblecore stories however, Digging For Fire is tragically missing the charming spark that keeps the sub-genre feeling fresh and interesting. Most of the supporting cast (several of whom are big-name indie personalities like Sam Rockwell, Jenny Slate, Anna Kendrick, or Brie Larson) feel unnecessarily invented as a way to show off a clever cameo, and the backbone of the story is revealed to be a simple mcguffin plot device. DeWitt and Johnson have a cool chemistry between them, and a few good laughs are in store, but it simply isn’t enough to carry the entirety of film. While Digging For Fire doesn’t quite have the substance that I was looking for, it still provides another light-hearted and intriguing filmic experience.

Rating: 6/10 

Similar to: Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), Greenberg (2010), Men, Women and Children (2014)

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