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    Digging for Fire (2015): Movie Review


    “A short, clever dig for a fine, practical find.”


    Like they say, some things are better left buried. In Digging for Fire, directed and co-written by Joe Swanberg, a house-sitting couple accidentally uncovers a human bone in the hills. Along with this discovery, existential questions about marriage and its compromises arise as they spend separate time pursuing their individual endeavours.

    The film opens with the couple, public school teacher Tim (Jake Johnson) and yoga instructor Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt), arriving with their 3-year-old son, Jude (Jude Swanberg), at a Southern Californian house belonging to Lee’s client who is off shooting a movie. Tim wanders around the hill on which the house sits and is surprised to come across a rusty old revolver and a human leg or arm bone. The couple reports their find to the LAPD but they brush them off as there is no actual body. Tim wants to dig further but Lee objects as this may upset the owners.


    Slightly infuriated, Lee decides to spend the weekend with their son at her mother’s house. Meanwhile, instead of doing the family taxes, Tim invites his male friends over for a night out at the house. His friends come, including uptight guy Phil (Mike Birbiglia) and party dudes Ray (Sam Rockwell) and Tango (Chris Messina), along with cocaine and some girls named Max (Brie Larson) and Alicia (Anna Kendrick). Tim also breaks his promise and continues the dig, now with Max’s help. She returns the next day which ends with them grabbing dinner together. On the other hand, Lee leaves Jude to her mother (Judith Light) and stepdad (Sam Elliot). Instead of having her own night out with her old friend, Squiggy (Melanie Lynskey), Lee finds herself cruising on a motorcycle with debonair stranger, Ben (Orlando Bloom). 


    Digging for Fire is a pleasurable, easy-going, low-key dramedy. Its comedy is fun and laid back, its gags decent and inoffensive as they are honest and real without referencing or passing judgments. Its drama centers on the leads’ marital issue but it is intertwined with the underlying mystery aspect. The mystery has metaphorical resonance, directing the couple to make the right choices. This gives the film its hazy yet titillating tone, especially that it ends with a cryptic conclusion.

    The movie is also self-reflective, its messages relayed in humorous well-meaning manner. They come through small talks, lightly touching matters about individuality and the loss of one’s identity when in a relationship, parenthood and decisions affecting the child, and even aging and growing old. But everything boils down to Tim’s and Lee’s true sentiment about their marriage. Theirs is not shaky or crumbling. There is simply that tacit sense of loss or uncertainties, possibly due to their prior concerns about money and decisions. So in their brief soul-searching time, they found escapades, though not demeaning or regrettable.
    The movie is star-studded, with majority of them appearing for a short screen time. They just come, act their part, deliver their lines, and then go away. It may sound messy and loose but their performances are amusing. Bloom and Kendrick are surprising, but none surpasses Messina as he goes full frontal. 

    Digging for Fire is competently shot and tightly edited. It is a beautiful three-way marriage of drama, comedy and mystery. But its mark is with its witty subtext. As the title suggests, it may be unwise to dig up everything. Harmless little things, like a short meaningless fling or encounter, are better left unsaid.

    Production companies: Forager Film Company, Webber Gilbert Media Group 
    Cast: Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Mike Birbiglia, Jane Adams, Sam Elliott, Judith Light, Ron Livingston, Melanie Lynskey, Megan Mercier 
    Director: Joe Swanberg 
    Screenwriters: Jake Johnson, Joe Swanberg 
    Producers: Jake Johnson, Joe Swanberg, Alicia Van Couvering 
    Executive producers: Peter Gilbert, Eddie Linker 
    Director of photography: Ben Richardson 
    Editor: Joe Swanberg 
    Production designer: Liz Toonkel 
    Music: Dan Romer



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