We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Rita and Ruthie are like two peas in a pod. They tag-team shoplift. They run from crisis together. They camp out in their beat-up car, eating French Fries. When they have a place to stay, they sleep in the same bed, spooned up against each other. They look like they could be sisters. But Rita is the mother, Ruthie is the 14-year-old daughter, and they are the central characters in "All We Had," Katie Holmes' directorial debut, adapted from Annie Weatherwax's 2015 novel.
Rita makes horrible choices in her life (if they can even be called choices), and she runs away when things get tough, dragging Ruthie (Stefania Owen) behind her. This is where the film starts. Mother and daughter paint a dream-life together: they will move to Boston, in a house with a pool. Stranded in a small town after their car breaks down, with no money and no place to stay, Rita and Ruthie are offered jobs at the local diner (after trying to leave without paying for their food). Marty (Richard Kind), the diner owner, and his transgender waitress niece Pam (Eve Lindley) are kind and generous, and the four create a makeshift family.
The film is narrated by Ruthie, and the overstating-the-obvious voiceover narration sounds like it is geared towards a YA audience: "Bullies exist in every small town. People hate what they don't understand." Or: "Why is life always so hard? Especially at 15?" Ruthie's voiceover is our "way into" the "point of view" of "All We Had," but there are many scenes with Ruthie not present at all. Ruthie's struggles to fit in at a new school, the ease with which she gets the approval of a Queen Bee classmate (using the tactics she learned from watching her manipulative mother), are intriguing, but dropped in favor of following Rita through her addiction and recovery issues. Rita starts to date a real estate developer (Mark Consuelos), who gets them into a house, all while Ruthie looks on suspiciously, wondering when the shoe will drop, because the shoe always drops.
Luke Wilson plays Lee, an alcoholic widower who frequents the diner. Wilson has been around for a long time now. Associated mainly with Wes Anderson's films, he has also had a wonderful career playing essentially decent stand-up guys ("The Family Stone," "The Skeleton Twins," "Meadowland.") Playing "a decent guy" is not as easy as Luke Wilson makes it look. Most actors would find these roles boring. Where's the twisty dark neuroticism actors love to revel in? Where's the "edginess"? But Wilson knows there is gold in these characters. In "All We Had," when emotions come up in him, they come like an ambush. Suddenly out of nowhere, he realizes he is about to cry and he is scared: Where did THAT come from? This feels like real life, not acting. He doesn't have a huge role in "All We Had" but in every scene he brings a quiet sense of unmistakable authenticity.