Digging for Fire , the latest offering from mumblecore maestro Joe Swanberg, stars Jake Johnson (who also co-wrote) as Tim and Rosemarie DeWitt as Lee. With a supporting cast of indie all-stars that would make any film festival-goer drool with excitement, Digging for Fire is a relationship dramedy about a married couple who take their young son on a housesitting trip to Hollywood Hills. Soon after settling into paradise, they find a human bone and gun in the backyard garden which sets in motion a series of events that lead each of them to fly solo for a weekend, learning much about themselves and each other along the way.
Kidding around. Having a kid, especially in the presence of parenting styles that are at odds with each other, can certainly throw a wrench in the gears of even the most perfect relationship. Fire deals with this head-on, with Tim serving as the fun-loving father and Lee the fastidious mother of a toddler-aged son (played by Swanberg’s own son). Although this arrangement might appear cliché at first, as each partner embarks on a solo soul search over the course of the movie their attitudes change in real and believable ways. However, this leads to a small issue with the structure of the film since Tim’s story arc receives slightly more attention than Lee’s.
A bone to pick. The bone and gun in the yard provide enough mystery to keep the movie chugging along at a comfortably engaging pace. With each additional clue that he finds, Tim finds out a bit more about himself and his struggle to behave like an adult while retaining just the right amount of his boyish interests. His search for clues leads to a satisfying and emotional climax, even if it feels a little lopsided since it was really only his quest and not his wife’s.
The cast system. For fans of indie movies and film festival fare, the cast will undoubtedly be one of the biggest draws to this film. Johnson and DeWitt give great performances, and thankfully most of the supporting cast does as well. Helming the supporting cast are Sam Rockwell as Tim’s party hardy old buddy and Brie Larson as a budding actress with whom Tim forms a pseudo-romantic connection over the course of a raucous party that ensues during his time alone at the house. The two of them manage to be both funny and charming (especially Larson), but the same could be said of all the supporting cast if they were given enough screen time to do so. The only other major supporting role is Orlando Bloom as a handsome romantic, and fortunately, he is just aware enough of his over-the-top charm to come across as funny rather than cringe-worthy. Indie movie staples like Ron Livingston, Chris Messina, Anna Kendrick, and many others show up in most delightful scenes throughout the movie, but their lack of screen time creates the sensation that the film is a bit overstuffed and self-indulgent.
Mumble-what? While Swanberg is often touted as one of the most prolific filmmakers in the genre, Fire might not be as low budget or improvised as fans of the genre would expect. The pedigree of the cast, not to mention the original soundtrack by Dan Romer (Beasts of the Southern Wild), lend a very polished sensibility to the movie. Nonetheless, most of the dialogue feels natural, real, well-acted, and Tim’s search for clues prevent the plot from meandering like those of some of its genre contemporaries.