Bergen International Film Festival 2015:
I really like Joe Swanberg’s movies as I’m seeing them. There’s a sense of childish joy and carelessness to them, interposed by some very mature and honest observations about the human condition. Drinking Buddies – which screened at BIFF 2013 – did it with friendship, and Happy Christmas – which screened at BIFF 2014 – did it with family. Sadly, it’s just that; I like seeing them. They don’t stay with me for very long, namely because the observations presented, alluring as they are, lacks subtlety and gracefulness. Digging for Fire is less direct, or at least leaves room for your own personal interpretations and feelings to flourish when the credits have rolled, and it’s also damned fun.
We meet Lee and Tim (Rosemary DeWitt and Jake Johnson,) a married couple on a vacation, as they discover a gun and a bone in a hill. This kicks off a story that explores their marriage, which, although not broken, lacks passion and zeal. While Tim is excited and anxious to search for more in the ground, Lee doesn’t see the fun in digging up someone else’s backyard or past. When she leaves for the weekend to meet up with a friend, Tim invites his friends over for a nostalgic night of reminiscence, alcohol and drug consumption, and of course a dig down. As the night – and weekend – unfolds, both Tim and Lee are thrown into their own adventure.
It’s an obvious way to explore marital issues – maybe too much so for some – but as the narrative progresses, and new characters are introduced and disappear, it makes for an exciting ensemble movie. The entire cast is brilliant, even down to a few people who only appear in one or two scenes. From Chris Messina’s juvenile eccentrics to Brie Larson’s charming carelessness. Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey and Orlando Bloom – and others – make up a nuanced cast of characters that makes sure the movie’s modesty never falls into simplicity or the uninspired. It is reminiscent of a Woody Allen movie, where it’s both painfully restrained and surprisingly candid at the same time. It’s not easy to find this balance, even Allen struggles with it with a lot of his movies, but there are two contemporary directors who deserve to be mentioned in light of Allen; Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, While We’re Young) and Joe Swanberg.
While the characters in Digging for Fire may be shallow and purposefully naïve, the movie becomes an exercise in existentialism; Lee and Tim may lack the constitution for introspection or existential thought, but the movie does not. It’s less about a marital crisis and the affects it has on a couple, and more about our desire for contemporary pleasures; to be liked by the people around us, to be cared for and to care about others, to pursue more basic sexual desires, and just to be – in the sense described by René Descartes. Digging for Fire is in many ways Swanberg’s most successful movie to date, as it not only entertains in the moment, but also manages stay in the memory, with his traditional observations presented in a much more subtle manner, making them all the more poignant.