Digging for Fire

Posted by Joel Copling on September 1, 2015


One supposes that it's generally an ok thing that both the mystery central to "Digging for Fire" and the subplot that is meant to complement it are contrived as tools for our protagonists, a married couple whose relationship has become complacent, to work out their issues because of the approach taken by screenwriters Jake Johnson (who also stars as the male half of the couple) and Joe Swanberg (who also directed). The key is in dissecting the word "screenwriters" in this context, because as ever with Swanberg and his crowd (many of which have converged to produce, make appearances or star in this particular effort), the screenplay is really just a skeleton from which the actors can draw their own inspiration. The improvisational technique can run into problems (After all, there is a limit to on-the-spot imagination), but it works here because of actors who click in roles that fit their sensibilities.

Tim (Johnson) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) are the couple in question. They've been given the opportunity to get away for a few weeks at a friend's cabin. Upon arrival, Tim does some cursory exploration of the grounds of the cabin and discovers a human bone and a rusty, old gun buried less than a foot beneath the ground. Something about finding it sparks curiosity in Tim, who refers to what he wants to be a new project as "Indiana Jones stuff" (and if it takes him away from doing those nasty taxes, all the better). Lee takes their child to her parents' (Sam Elliott and Judith Light) house for part of the trip and meets a possible romantic foible in Ben (Orlando Bloom).

Tim employs a series of friends (played by the likes of Mike Birbiglia, Sam Rockwell, Brie Larson, and more than a few others, all of whom make up for their nothing roles by seeming like real people) to help him in his quest of discovering what could be an entire human body underneath the hill. This doesn't come to much in the long run besides more evidence being found of something strange having happened, but it does reveal more than a few shades about the type of man Tim is. When he seems to connect to Larson's Max, one of the women another friend of Tim's brought along with him (The other is Anna Kendrick as Alicia, who has an entirely coincidental connection to another, unexpected character here), the immediate thought is of a romantic relationship, which blessedly never really comes up.

If the primary narrative thread fizzles out to not much more than a commentary on character, that's perfectly fine in the long-term. This is not a movie that needs to be defined by serious or dramatic events. Case in point: Lee's first encounter with Ben (which is an amusing scene that ends in the need for non-life-threatening medical care for him) is about as heated as it gets between the two, and the subplot isn't even really concluded with much fanfare. All this, though, feels right. "Digging for Fire" isn't looking to make a big deal out of even the things it seems to prioritize; the real drama lay in the small, mundane moments of human connection, such as a fittingly curt and sweet final one.

Film Information


Jake Johnson (Tim), Rosemarie DeWitt (Lee), Orlando Bloom (Ben), Brie Larson (Max), Sam Rockwell (Ray), Anna Kendrick (Alicia), Mike Birbiglia (Phil), Sam Elliott (Pop Pop), Judith Light (Grandma), Ron Livingston (Bob), Melanie Lynskey (Squiggy), Timothy Simons (Yoga Student #1), Jenny Slate (Yoga Student #2), Jane Adams (Woman on Beach).

Directed by Joe Swanberg and written by Swanberg and Jake Johnson.

Rated R (language including sexual references, drug use, brief graphic nudity).

85 minutes.

Released in select cities on August 21, 2015.