What They Had

What They Had is a 2018 American drama film written and directed by Elizabeth Chomko and starring Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Robert Forster, Blythe Danner, Taissa Farmiga, and Josh Lucas.

What They Had
Theatrical release poster
Directed byElizabeth Chomko
Produced by
Written byElizabeth Chomko
Music byDanny Mulhern
CinematographyRoberto Schaefer
Edited byTom McArdle
  • Unified Pictures
  • Bona Fide Productions
  • Look to the Sky Films
  • June Pictures
Distributed byBleecker Street
Release date
  • January 21, 2018 (2018-01-21) (Sundance)
  • October 19, 2018 (2018-10-19)
Running time
101 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$260,136[2]

The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2018, and was released in the United States on October 19, 2018 by Bleecker Street.[3]


When her Alzheimer's-suffering mother, Ruth, wanders into a blizzard on Christmas Eve, Bridget Ertz travels back to her hometown to help her brother, Nicky, convince their father, to put Ruth in a nursing home and face the end of their life-long love affair.

Ruth returns back to her home with her family and discussions ensue about her future. Nicky debates with their father, Norbert as he has secured a spot in one of the premiere memory assisted facilities in Chicago. Yet Norbert insists that he alone can provide the best care for Ruth. Nicky looks to Bridget for help, but her time away from her parents makes this a challenge to address. Bridget is dealing with her own immediate family issues as she's never connected with her husband and her daughter, suffering from anxiety, has stopped attending classes at college.

Nicky continues to argue with his father over Ruth's future and after a heated discussion he leaves the home. Bridget discusses her father's interference in her life and just then they notice that Ruth has again disappeared from the home. She is discovered quickly, but Norbert finally realizes that Ruth must go to the assisted care facility.

Norbert reconciles with his son by visiting his tavern. Shortly thereafter he dies due to a heart attack and Nicky is grief stricken. Bridget spends time with her mother at her assisted home and sees how well they are treating her. She leaves the facility with a restful smile on her face.




In 2014, Elizabeth Chomko was selected for the Sundance Institute's Screenwriters Lab with a script for the drama film What They Had.[4] In September 2015, Chomko's script was announced as a winner for the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.[5] In June 2016, Chomko revealed she would also direct the film from her screenplay. Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa were later reported to produce for Bona Fide Productions, along with Bill Holderman, and Andrew Duncan and Alex Saks producing for June Pictures, and Keith Kjarval producing for Unified Pictures.[6]


On March 17, 2017, it was reported that Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Robert Forster, Blythe Danner, and Taissa Farmiga had been cast in the film.[7] Sarah Sutherland's casting was confirmed in August 2017.[8]


Principal photography began on March 22, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.[7] On March 28, members of the Amboy American Legion performed a graveside service for a scene in the film on location in Westchester, Illinois.[9] Conboy Westchester Funeral Home also hosted the cast and crew for filming on March 28.[10] Production was set up in Hyde Park, Chicago for more than two weeks, concluding on April 17.[11] Filming wrapped in Los Angeles on May 2, 2017.


In December 2017, it was reported that Danny Mulhern would compose the film's score.[12]


In May 2017, Bleecker Street acquired domestic distribution rights to the film.[13] It had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2018.[14][15] What They Had was initially scheduled for release on March 16, 2018,[16] but was pushed back to October 19, 2018.[17]


On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 87% based on 102 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.15/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "What They Had finds laughter and tears in its portrait of a family at a crossroads, with writer-director Elizabeth Chomko getting outstanding performances out of a talented cast."[18] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 69 out of 100, based on 24 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[19]


  1. "Premieres – What They Had". Sundance Film Festival. Sundance Institute. Retrieved December 13, 2017.
  2. "What They Had". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  3. Chuba, Kirsten (February 16, 2018). "Bleecker Street Announces Release Dates, Including 'Colette,' 'Papillon,' 'On Chesil Beach'". Variety. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  4. Gupta, Shipra Harbola (December 16, 2014). "Sundance Institute Announces 2015 January Screenwriters Lab Participants". IndieWire. Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  5. Lincoln, Ross A. (September 29, 2015). "2015 Nicholl Fellowship Winning Screenwriters Selected". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  6. Kroll, Justin (December 17, 2017). "Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon to Star as Siblings in Drama 'What They Had'". Variety. Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  7. Kit, Borys (March 17, 2017). "Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon to Star in Drama 'What They Had' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  8. Silman, Anna (August 29, 2017). "Veep's Secret Weapon Sarah Sutherland is the most serious actor in comedy". TheCut.com. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  9. Greenfield, Tonja (April 4, 2017). "Amboy Legion members film scene for upcoming movie". The Amboy News. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
  10. Barrows, Aimee (April 26, 2017). "Westchester funeral home hosts movie crew". My Suburban Life. Retrieved May 10, 2017.
  11. Cholke, Sam (April 17, 2017). "Hilary Swank Movie Wraps Shooting Today In Hyde Park". DNA. Retrieved May 10, 2017.
  12. "Danny Mulhern Scoring 'What They Had'". Film Music Reporter. December 15, 2017. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  13. Hipes, Patrick (May 9, 2017). "Bleecker Street Lands Alzheimer's Drama 'What They Had' Starring Hilary Swank & Michael Shannon". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 9, 2017.
  14. Debruge, Peter (November 29, 2017). "Sundance Film Festival Unveils Full 2018 Features Lineup". Variety. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
  15. "Sundance Program Schedule" (PDF). Sundance Film Festival. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  16. N'Duka, Amanda (October 26, 2017). "Bleecker Street Sets Release Dates For 'What They Had', 'Disobedience' & More". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  17. Hipes, Patrick (February 16, 2018). "Bleecker Street Dates Its Big Sundance Buy 'Colette', 'Papillon' & More". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  18. "What They Had (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  19. "What They Had Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
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