Hooking us in with a murder-mystery themed premise, Digging for Fire revels in writer-director Joe Swanberg’s typical themes concerning marriage, parenting, and escaping from the routine formality of life.
When house-sitting for a star client, married couple Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Tim (Jake Johnson) discover a bone and gun buried in the property’s garden. This discovery prompts the couple onto separate adventures, forcing them to evaluate their everyday lives.
Swanberg directs with a laid-back, lingering gaze – there is no sense of urgency surrounding the tale’s narrative, which may surprise some viewers given the questions raised by the initial bone and gun discovery. This bone appears as a literal reminder of the ‘skeleton in the closet’ concept that lurks behind many marriages – and has very little narrative consequence. Instead it is simply a tool for Swamberg to jump into his low-key study on relationships.
In two separate narrative strands we see Lee venture on a night out where she meets Orlando Bloom’s charming stranger, whilst Tim throws a party and strikes up a connection with Brie Larson’s young blonde. Both these journeys see Lee and Tim’s faithfulness tested and challenges them to re-examine their home life. There is something boldly refreshing in Digging for Fire’s refusal to milk these for cheap emotion – this is an observation with little manipulation, we simply see the couple form new bonds with no over-the-top dramatics.
Occasionally Swanberg’s direction can feel lethargic, and the actions of supporting character’s feel bizarre and unjustified (ie. Sam Rockwell’s hot-headed best-friend). The comedy can also feel too low-key and in need of a jolt of energy. However, the performances in this modern Hollywood fable remain engaging throughout. Johnson has a likeable, every man vibe whilst DeWitt has an intoxicating charm about her. Big name supporting turns from Sam Elliott, Judith Light, Chris Messina, Anna Kendrick, Tom Bower, and Jenny Slate ensure there is always something of interest going-on.
Digging for Fire’s slow-burning look at relationships is short enough to remain aptly charming and laid-back for the most part. However, there’s part of me that would rather we just put all that aside and investigated the story behind the bone in the garden.