Michael Shannon was at a Chicago pub when he watched his “The Shape of Water” collaborators accept this year’s Best Picture Oscar, so he likely had no trouble getting into character — as a Windy City bar owner — for “What They Had.” The movie’s writer/director, Elizabeth Chomko, received a $35,000 Nicholl Fellowship from the Academy for her debut screenplay, besting more than 7,400 other applicants. Also a playwright and actress, Chomko has appeared on series like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
“What They Had” screened in the premieres section of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (Chomko is an alum of the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Lab). Set during the Christmas season, the film casts Shannon and two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank (“Boys Don’t Cry,” “Million Dollar Baby”) as the children of a military veteran (Robert Forster) and an Alzheimer’s patient (Blythe Danner). Shannon’s Nick is the frequent caretaker of their parents, as his sister Bridget (Swank) raises her daughters in California amid marital strife. Yet Bridget returns home to assist Nick after their mother wanders into snowy metropolis in her nightgown. As Danner’s alter-ego loses her grip on reality, she drinks holy water, and — at various points in the plot — becomes convinced that she’s both a young lover and an expectant mother.
“Little Miss Sunshine” producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa backed the project, along with Keith Kjarval (“Welcome to Me”), Bill Holderman (“Book Club”), Alex Saks (“The Florida Project”), Sefton Fincham (“Drone”), and Tyler Jackson (“Vincent N Roxxy”). Bleecker Street will bring “What They Had” to select theaters on October 12. Watch the trailer below.