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Digging for Fire 

Wednesday, Aug 26 2015
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Is there something about going mainstream — or, well, relatively mainstream — that's sapping Joe Swanberg's vitality? God knows he's entitled to a little slowdown after many years of matchless productivity in the DIY shoestring-indie trenches (although Swanberg's great filmmaking gift was to make those so-called trenches seem more like rich neighbors' backyard swimming pools). Nor is it any surprise that he's earned an upgrade to the shinier stars and production values ofDrinking Buddies,Happy Christmas, and nowDigging for Fire. The latter comes on with the strong pulse one might associate with having made it to the next level, and maybe it has to do with the management challenge of growing a stable of regular actors. To the ranks of Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston, Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, and Jane Adams, in Digging for Fire Swanberg adds Rosemarie DeWitt, Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Sam Rockwell, Jenny Slate, Timothy Simons, Mike Birbiglia, Sam Elliot, and Judith Light. Whew! It's like a wedding: so great to see them all, and sadly only briefly. Johnson and DeWitt star as a middle-class married couple who borrow a nice Hollywood house for a weekend. Something strange turns up on the property, but Swanberg (co-writing with Johnson) maintains his faithfulness to more mundane dramatic materials, like a messy table full of undone taxes, or a crying toddler. WhatDigging for Firereally has going for it is a solidly Swanbergian, unpretentious story. The scenes seem observed, not overwrought, and when you sense them adding up, it's not to some archly climactic epiphany. And maybe it's a comment on this fine young filmmaker's work-life balance: The couple spends some time apart for independent romantic temptations, soul searching, and self-assessment — during which, drolly, each of them tries on a leather jacket.

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Jonathan Kiefer

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SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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