Nearly every scene in “Digging for Fire” offers up a fresh slice of life, usually embodied in a familiar face or two showing up and moving the story in a different direction. It’s the kind of movie where you elbow the person next to you when, out of nowhere, there’s Anna Kendrick showing up for an impromptu pool party, or look, it’s Orlando Bloom at the end of the bar!
Not that we’re talking about glorified cameos here. These are working actors of various generations and levels of fame, no doubt attracted to this material because it’s that increasingly rare film that’s all about the things people say when they’re in a room together — and the things they do when they’re left to their own devices.
Everyone in this movie talks a good game.
Jake Johnson (who co-wrote the film with “Fire” director Joe Swanberg) gives a terrific, offbeat performance as Tim, a public school teacher married to Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt), a yoga instructor who should be more relaxed about life in general, given she’s a yoga instructor. (DeWitt specializes in playing the kind of characters who would say, “I used to be a much nicer person.’)
They have a hilariously adorable toddler son named Jude (played by Swanberg’s son Jude). They have a good, solid marriage. Sure, they’re in that zone where they’re not the twentysomething, irony-loving hipsters they once were — but they’re cool. They’ve got this.
Tim and Lee like to think of themselves as bohemian liberals, but they’re not above accepting money from Lee’s wealthy parents (Judith Light and Sam Elliott) so Jude can attend private school. (Like political candidates campaigning for better public education while sending their offspring to private schools, they rationalize this by convincing themselves there’s nothing wrong with wanting the best for your own.)
Nor are they above jumping at the opportunity to spend a few weeks at a sprawling home in the Hollywood Hills that belongs to one of Lee’s yoga clients. In fact, they jump right into the lifestyle.
Puttering around the grounds one morning, Tim finds a rusty old revolver and something that could be a human bone poking out from the mud. He’s immediately intrigued to the point of near-obsession. What took place on this property so many years ago? Was it … MURDER?
“Digging For Fire” bears more than a slight resemblance to some of Woody Allen’s crime-themed pictures, such as “Manhattan Murder Mystery” and this summer’s “Irrational Man,” where the possibility of a violent act is the vehicle to discoveries of some deeply buried truths about certain characters.
Lee is only mildly intrigued by Tim’s discovery. She reminds him he’s supposed to be doing their taxes before she sets out for some much-needed “me time” with her family — giving Lee the perfect opportunity to invite some of his bros over to down beers and join him in digging around the property in search of more clues.
Sam Rockwell plays Ray, that one guy from your group who refused to segue from hedonist to responsible married guy. He shows up at the house with two free-spirited lovelies: Max (Brie Larson) and Alicia (Anna Kendrick), who quickly strip down and jump into the pool.
Meanwhile, out of town, Lee’s honor is defended at a bar by a guy named Ben (Orlando Bloom), which results in Ben needing stitches, and Lee and Ben getting into dangerously flirty territory on the beach, under the moon. Like nearly every other scene in “Digging for Fire,” it plays out in an understated manner that might not make for the most dramatic fireworks, but feels right.
Director and co-writer Swanberg also edited the film, and there are some perfectly cut sequences. (Just as Lee is getting too close to Ben, Tim is finding himself deeply attracted to Max, who shares his keen interest in literally digging for more information.)
This is the most ambitious and the most mainstream film to date from Swanberg, whose previous works include “Happy Christmas,” “Drinking Buddies” and a segment of “VHS.” Equal parts film noir, relationship drama, dark comedy and mood piece, “Digging for Fire” is a movie made by someone who clearly loves the art of movies.
Director and co-writer Joe Swanberg and actor and co-writer Jake Johnson will appear at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday screenings of “Digging for Fire” at the Music Box Theatre.
The Orchard presents a film directed by Joe Swanberg and written by Swanberg and Jake Johnson. Running time: 83 minutes. Rated R (for language including some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity). Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre and Tuesday on demand.