Indie flavor of the moment Joe Swanberg keeps finding new ways to make movies about absolutely nothing. Well, that’s not completely true. His movies have a point, but everything surrounding it might as well be Styrofoam packing peanuts for all their usefulness. Swanberg’s latest vacant gab fest is “Digging for Fire”, a film that starts off strong as an exploration of one married couple’s struggles with parenthood, but quickly becomes a movie in which a lot of people you don’t care about chatter away without saying anything.
At least Swanberg’s previous film, the holiday dramedy “Happy Christmas”, had some charm to it, and the characters acted reasonably like actual people. It wasn’t full of heavy-handed symbolism or anything like that. It was just a small, well-written movie that said what it needed to say, left its mark, and then quietly went away. “Digging for Fire” is aggressively dull and drab, and this time Swanberg’s wealth of big name stars can’t help it. Jake Johnson and Rosemarie DeWitt play Tim and Lee, an L.A. couple with a chatty 3-year-old son (Swanberg’s kid, who steals the show just as he did in “Happy Christmas”) house-sitting for one of her crazy rich yoga clients. While they appear happy, life has basically been taken over by the needs of the child, and it doesn’t help that they are fundamentally two very different people. She’s more spiritual, he’s pretty lazy. She decides to split for a few days to see her parents, taking the kid with her. It’ll give them some time apart, and a chance for Tim to finish their taxes. Instead, he decides to invite a bunch of friends over to get drunk and swim in the pool.
Don’t be mistaken; what unfolds is only marginally more interesting than if Tim had just sat down to do the family taxes. Tim discovers in the backyard an old bone and a rusty revolver, and rather than just tossing them away or calling the police over the suspicious find, he decides to literally dig for answers. Yes, that’s how obvious this movie is. Sam Rockwell, Mike Birbiglia, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Chris Messina, and Swanberg himself all play Tim’s pals who come over to help dig or just shoot the sh*t, but none of them have anything worthwhile to say. Tim begins spending way too much time with Larson’s character, while Lee meet-cutes with Orlando Bloom, who happens to be handsome and one Hell of a cook. Will they stray? It would be a question worth asking if we were given any reason to care, but the screenplay by Swanberg and Johnson has all the subtlety of a jackhammer. At one point a gonzo neighbor shows up and tells Tim to “be careful what you wish for and be mindful of the threads you pull on.” Just in case we had somehow missed the point. Later, a random character (it’s the amazing Jane Adams, utterly wasted here) shows up and invites Lee to look at Saturn through her telescope. This convinces Lee to later suggest getting a telescope of her own. That’s what you have to look forward to with “Digging for Fire”. Taxes, telescopes, and empty chatter.