In Reviews

August 12th, 2015




It started to nibble at the back of my mind, and I couldn’t help thinking about the new film Digging for Fire after watching it. Directed by Joe Swanberg, it is a meandering story about a 30-something married couple complete with sporadic hidden messages about love. On the surface, it can be viewed as just another one of Swanberg’s usual films with his cast of “mumblecore” faces acting for the camera with not much purpose, and certainly dictating nothing in the shape of a script. Yet, something this time seems more put together. Tim (Jake Johnson), Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) and their son Jude (played by Swanberg’s scene stealing son of the same name) get away for a vacation to house sit in the California hills. When Lee’s parents are available to babysit, it gives the couple a chance to have separate nights of their own that include Tim getting drunk with friends, digging up old bones in the backyard, and putting their marriage to the test.

When they arrive to the house, there is an eagerness in Tim to visit his childish side and dig around in the dirt on a hill in the backyard. When he finds a gun and a human bone, he instantly wants to keep digging and discover what could be the reason behind this discovery. There’s got to be more stuff back there right? Lee, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with it. Her idea of the vacation was resting, swimming in the pool, and enjoying some romantic time with her husband. Instead, the two of them will venture out on paths that will challenge their marriage and discover what it means to be a grown up with kids.

The style of Swanberg’s films have been hard to become comfortable with. The style of “mumblecore” (if you don’t already know) consists of the actors improvising their lines instead of giving them an actual written script. This leads to incoherent stutters and babbles. He dealt with hipster romances in Drinking Buddies, which was a charming film, and then dealt with family members that refuse to grow up in the non-stop rambling of last years dreadful film, Happy Christmas (#6 on’s 2014 Worst Movies of the Year list). In Digging for Fire, which Swanberg co-wrote with Johnson, there is a bit more direction and buried beneath the conversations is a relatable theme for our two characters. Like many couples that have been married for a few years and have a child, they may begin to wonder about what they are missing, is there is more out there in life?

Lee decides to visit a friend (Melanie Lynskey), and even though this trip was to allow Tim to focus and get the family taxes done, he instead invites his friends Phil (Mike Birbiglia of Orange is the New Black), Paul (Steve Berg), and Ray (Sam Rockwell) over for drinks and digging. The digging leads to more discoveries in the ground, but it is more of a distraction from the sexual tension from Ray’s lady-friends Alicia (Anna Kendrick from Cake) and Max (Brie Larson). While Tim tries to stay away from the temptation of Max’s youth and energy, it is Lee who’s temptation comes from a black leather jacket wearing mystery man at the bar named Ben (Orlando Bloom, looking his Guess Jean Ad best).

This is in many ways Swanberg’s “mumblecore” version of Eyes Wide Shut. Although a script is something that would have helped his characters sound more articulate, he at least gives his audience a relationship to root for. And you certainly can’t blame Swanberg for sticking to his auteur style. Digging for Fire is, if anything, Swanberg’s best film to date. I enjoyed finding what’s buried beneath his style.

2 ½ Stars

Written by: Leo Brady

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