Joe Swanberg (“Drinking Buddies”) and Jake Johnson (“New Girl”) wrote an amusing and yet affecting little relationship movie in “Digging for Fire,” which also stars the incomparable Rosemarie Dewitt. Johnson and Dewitt play a married couple with a 3-year-old son, and in well-written and naturalistic dialogue they navigate the vagaries, difficulties and joys of maintaining a marriage.
Housesitting in a home considerably grander than their own, the couple look forward to crashing in the nice house as a kind of vacation, but their new surroundings soon stir the pot of their relationship. In a heavy-handed metaphor, Johnson starts literally digging up stuff when they find a gun buried in the vast yard. His wife, sensibly, begs him not to dig up her employers’ yard, but when she leaves with their son for a weekend visit to her parents, Johnson can’t help himself.
Swanberg, a proponent of the highly naturalistic “mumblecore” style of filmmaking, stays true to form with the improvisational, meandering feel of this movie. However, the conversations ring so true that they are never boring; it’s more like listening in on something you want to hear.
The husband, who has been instructed to finish the couple’s taxes, attacks that project with all the gusto you might imagine, and instead invites his bros over for beer and hamburgers. It’s an innocent man hangout until two pretty girls find their way over, too. Both husband and wife soon find themselves tempted.
What I liked was the reciprocal nature of the activities the couple eagerly attend while they’re apart. Desperate to feel they can act freely, they both tend to do the same things anyway. Humor is wrung from their adherence to a healthy diet, and they both take the opportunity to guiltily devour hamburgers. They both promptly don leather jackets. These are the kinds of details that ring true in the film.
So many famous people have small parts in the film that one assumes they are friends with the director; similarly, Swanberg’s own little boy plays the adorable kid. It felt real in this way, and the situations also felt real, true and familiar to me as a married parent. “Digging for Fire” is not revolutionary, or even revelatory, but it captures some things that are hard to express, and it did so with a terrific cast.
Dewitt is really just wonderful in everything, like “Rachel Getting Married” and “My Sister’s Sister.” She’s mature, and I don’t intend that as a backhanded compliment; it’s like watching an actual woman onscreen. Johnson, meanwhile, brings a soulful streak to his usual smart-aleck puckishness, and the two are wonderful together. It’s worthwhile to watch them on their short adventures together and apart, and it makes for an unusually thought-provoking slice of life.
“Digging for Fire” is currently available to rent and to stream on Hoopla, a free service from the Mobile Public Library.