what they had posterIn the new movie What They Had the drama is very personal. The story focuses on a family headed by Burt (Robert Forster) and Ruth (Blythe Danner), the latter of whom is sliding further and further into dementia and other problems. Their grown children Bridget (Hilary Swank) and Nick (Michael Shannon) return home to help and deal with what’s happening with their mother.

They encourage Burt to seek help and place Ruth somewhere she can be more well cared for. But he’s not having it, determined to keep her with him through whatever might come. That’s not a popular decision and leads to some awkward conversations, but the point is to not split up the family.

The Posters

“A family united by the past. Divided by the present.” Aside from my questioning of the sentence structure there, the poster sells a family drama as it shows all five main characters walking away from the camera, a giant flower arrangement in the background. A few positive quotes from early screenings appear toward the top.

The Trailers

The first trailer gives us the basic outlines of the story, that Bridget and Nicky are both dealing with the failing health and memory of their mother while also handling their own situations, and presents a strong drama with a lot of great actors. The family dynamic is most on display as we see the brother and sister try to make decisions and do what’s best for their parents while also seeing that Burt is unwilling to consider any option that puts his wife of so many decades in a nursing home. It’s full of big moments, but the case is really going to be made in the smaller ones that maybe aren’t shown here.

Online and Social

Bleecker Street offered its usual variety of content on the movie’s official website, including the trailer, a synopsis, a few links to interviews and a bit more. There are also links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A TV spot from early October focused on the critical praise earned by both the movie as a whole and the specific members of the cast.

Media and Publicity

The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, which also featured a handful of conversations with the movie’s cast and crew.

An uncomfortable family moment is at the heart of the first clip, as Nicky shares an awkward encounter he’s had.

Overall

There’s a strong focus in the campaign on Swank, with this kind of positioned as a return by the actress to the mainstream limelight. That’s great since she’s always been a talent who Hollywood only rarely understood how to utilize.

It also sells a powerful drama about a family dealing with a very difficult situation and trying to get through it with a mix of reality and humor. While it’s Danner and Forster who provide the focus of the conflict, it’s Swank and Shannon that seem to have the emotional arc.

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