Digging for Fire
DIGGING FOR FIRE, comedy-drama, rated R, Center for Contemporary Arts, 2.5 chiles
Hey, kids! Digging for Fire is the home movie you might have made if you had a lot of A (or B+) list friends, including a terrific cinematographer like Ben Richardson (shooting on 35mm to impressive effect) and actors like Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Rosemarie DeWitt, Orlando Bloom, Judith Light, and Sam Elliott. And a cute, precocious in-house three-yearold like Jude Swanberg. Oh, and talent. Prolific indie director Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies,
Happy Christmas) has that. He uses it in a low-key way, on movies that seem to drift, absorbed in the moment, through a structure that has a vague idea of where it’s going but no special plan of how to get there.
Here we start with a young couple. Tim (Swanberg’s co-writer Jake Johnson) is a high school teacher, and Lee (DeWitt) is a yoga instructor, and they’ve got a gig house-sitting in the Malibu hills for a few weeks for a wealthy client of hers. While poking around in the back yard, Tim stumbles on an intriguing find: a rusted old handgun and a long bone that might have human provenance. He calls the police, who tell him to get back to them if he finds a body. He’s all for excavating the property, but Lee, who is of a more practical bent, tells him to forget it. She’s taking their little boy for a weekend with her parents (Light and Elliott), and she leaves him with a kitchen table strewn with tax materials and marching orders to get them done.
Scarcely is the driveway empty when his buddies (Rockwell, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Messina) start showing up, bringing along some dope and some good-time gals (Kendrick, Brie Larson), and the party is on. And after an uncomfortable drink with a creepy, insinuating neighbor (Tom Bower), and with the enthusiastic encouragement of some of the pals, Tim starts to dig. Lee, meanwhile, is getting advice from her parents, temptation in the company of a handsome stranger (Bloom), and perspective through the lens of the telescope belonging to a woman on the beach (Jane Adams).
The game is on, and it’s kept afloat by the screen presence of its cast. A lot of the scenes feel, and surely are, improvised from an outline, and they’re fun to watch. There are several overriding lines of tension: Will the partiers and diggers destroy the fancy house? Will Tim or Lee fall off the fidelity wagon? Will their friends and family convince them that divorce is a marriage’s best friend? And, first among this weave of threads, will Tim find a dead body buried in the Malibu hillside? The overall arc is one of self-discovery, and at a modest 85 minutes, it’s worth the time. — Jonathan Richards
Stranger in the night: Orlando Bloom and Rosemarie DeWitt