Joe Swanberg’s ‘Digging for Fire’ Finds Life and Mystery


Joe Swanberg’s Digging for Fire is a tonally odd film — a mystery, a hangout, and a couples therapy session all at once. Husband and wife Tim (Jake Johnson) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) are housesitting at a well-off home, which offers ample opportunity for snooping and class comparisons (their conversations about whether to send their son to private school ground the film in issues not often part of the indie milieu).

In the yard one day, Tim discovers a bone and a gun. Lee tells him to forget about it, and takes their son with her to see her parents, leaving Tim behind to do the taxes, that most uncinematic of tasks. Swanberg slyly presents the paperwork-strewn table in direct contrast to the open, verdant backyard. Rather than turn the film suspenseful, Swanberg lingers on Tim hanging out with groups of friends, intermittently talking about the mysterious items, and going back to digging.

In the 85-minute runtime, a slew of characters are introduced. This gives the film a casual, easygoing feel but is also frustrating: Many of these people disappear before we get a chance to know or care about them.

Digging for Fire affably drifts by, bolstered by some strong set pieces. The long early scene of Tim and his friends at the house is a tableau of masculine performance — skinny-dipping, drugs, digging. A late scene of Lee encountering a woman with a telescope at the beach is lovely, the simultaneous calm and mystery of the sky a nice summary of the film’s general mood. Getting out of the house, it turns out, is far more interesting than doing taxes, and Swanberg illustrates this truth in bright, picturesque tones.

Digging for Fire

Directed by Joe Swanberg

The Orchard

Opens August 21, IFC Center