Keep Digging

Chris Messina skinny-dipping is the best part of Joe Swanberg's improvised mumblecore.

I'll say two things for Digging for Fire: One, Jake Johnson is charming as fuck.

Also: Chris Messina gets naked.

Other than that, Digging for Fire is generic mumblecore garbage. Johnson stars as a teacher named Tim who is married to yoga instructor Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt). They have a 3-year-old son. They're poorish (in this L.A. world, "poor" means they have a nice car, unlimited Uber rides and lots of leisure time), but they're house-sitting a mansion. While messing around in the yard, Tim finds a bone and a gun. Then Lee decides Tim needs to spend the weekend alone doing taxes in the mansion, so she takes their son to her mom's. Famous actors doing poor imitations of real people appear. More bones are dug up. Conversations about adulthood, parenthood, marriage and spirituality are conducted. Leather jackets are worn.

On the phone, Johnson (Zooey Deschanel's bartender love interest on New Girl), who co-wrote the movie with director Joe Swanberg, tells me that the idea for the movie came when he found bones and a gun in his own backyard. "We wanted to tell a story about that, but we wanted to do somewhat of a follow-up to Drinking Buddies—what happens to the type of people like that who now have kids."

What that means is they wanted to write a movie about themselves. Again. But they didn't want to actually do any writing. In Digging for Fire, Swanberg and Johnson assembled their most famous friends—Anna Kendrick, Judith Light, Sam Rockwell, Orlando Bloom—and told them to create their own characters and improvise all the dialogue. It's peak mumblecore with some big stars getting in on the action. And it's completely empty. Take for example, the only reason you might have to see this movie: a few seconds of Chris Messina full frontal nudity. His character, Johnson says, was supposed to bring some dark energy to the party: "And he said, 'Well, what if I took my pants off and jumped into the pool?'"

Unfortunately, naked Chris Messina isn't dark at all: He's just an attractive naked man, a welcome addition to any party. In fact, all the things that are supposed to be dark fail because they feel like aliens imitating human behavior they've seen in movies. Lee spends one night out and is rescued from an old dude hitting on her in a bar by Bloom, who then drives her around on a motorcycle and cooks her a perfect steak, like a live-action Harlequin romance fantasy. Tim invites his badass friends Messina and Rockwell over, and they bring coke and hot young girls—a midlife-crisis care package that exists only in fictions where men try to grapple with what it means to be an adult. Tim digs up a yard that does not belong to him and finds meaningful bones. In real life, Lee would get drunk alone, Tim would get drunk alone, and the moment Tim started digging, he'd hit a gas main.

Johnson tells me the movie is "very pro-marriage."

He's right.

Mumblecore has reached the point where it's pro-straight, white marriage. There's nothing interesting or new happening, it's just a bunch of famous people with expensive cameras having a long, boring conversation. Nothing edgier than coke being snorted unconvincingly by dudes from TV, with the biggest conflict being whether or not to send your child to public preschool, even though you can afford private. Find a screenshot of Messina's dick on the Internet, but don't watch this movie. Mumblecore is dead. 

SEE IT: Digging for Fire is rated R. It opens Friday at Living Room Theaters. GRADE: C-