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Review: ‘What They Had’ dives deep into difficult family decisions

Thanks to its excellent casting, “What They Had” is able to take viewers deep into the emotional decisions regarding end-of-life care. (Photo courtesy of IMDb)

Simply put, “What They Had” is the definition of a stellar ensemble film. Led by a deeply moving performance from Hilary Swank coupled with writer/director Elizabeth Chomko’s cutting script, “What They Had” makes for an incredibly emotional trip to the theater.

Swank along with co-stars Michael Shannon, Robert Forster, Blythe Danner and Taissa Farmiga make up a cast without a single weak link. Even Farmiga, the youngest of the bunch, is able to stand her ground and go toe to toe with the best of them.

After Ruth (Danner), suffering from dementia runs off in the middle of the night, her daughter Bridget (Swank), returns home to Chicago to discuss the difficult decisions that must be made when it comes to her ailing mother. While Bridget and her brother, Nick (Shannon), insist of placing their mother in an assisted living community, Burt (Forster), Ruth’s husband, is reluctant to give up their life together. Along the way, arguments ensue and tempers flare, all while trying to make the most of their time with Ruth’s fading memory.

An extremely personal film, “What They Had” will have viewers misty-eyed and sniffling as they can’t help but think about their own loved ones. Even though these horrible afflictions may not affect everyone, Chomko’s raw and emotional dialogue makes it easy for audiences to imagine themselves making these tough end of life decisions.

“What They Had” is a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, elevated by exceptional performances from every cast member and the raw power of Chomko’s startlingly real script.


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Zach Goins View All

Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for

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