The films of Joe Swanberg have a consistently low-key, tossed-off charm.
That’s a backhanded compliment, to be sure, but it’s a compliment nonetheless. The indie auteur, who has expanded beyond his microbudget beginnings to start working with movie stars, specializes in pictures that make an art out of extracting significance from small, fleeting moments.
Consider “Digging For Fire,” his 18th picture since 2005. On the surface, virtually nothing happens: Jake Johnson’s Tim, accompanies wife Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) and toddler son Jude on a weekend away at the home of one of yoga teacher Lee’s clients. There, Tim becomes convinced there is a dead body somewhere in the backyard and digs obsessively. Meanwhile, Lee spends a night on the town alone.
This reads like a mildly interesting but eminently forgettable chapter in the lives of these characters, but Swanberg fills it with a sense of importance, captured in the words left unsaid as Tim digs and Lee drifts, the fluid pans and tracking shots that allow us to observe the distances that have emerged between husband and wife, and intelligent dialogue that communicates the fears and uncertainties that come with each passing day, as we move further from the individuals we were to a future that can never be certain.
The movie is also pretty funny and extremely well-cast. DeWitt has always been an underutilized treasure, and the supporting actors include Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Orlando Bloom and Mike Birbiglia.