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All We Had (2016) Review

All We Had is a 2016 drama about a mother and daughter with little to their names who try to make a new start somewhere on the road.

The shift from acting to directing has often been a claim many in front of the camera say is their true passion, and for some, they prove themselves able, or beyond. With All We Had, a directorial debut for Katie Holmes, the shift feels more like a statement rather than a progression, a work that shouts out like a personal proclamation. Directing herself, she is still here.

Rita (Holmes) is a single mother with nothing left to give. Her teenaged daughter Ruthie (Stefinia Owen) is all she has left, and the two can barely find enough food in a day, let alone keep a roof over their heads. We start with them ducking out of their rundown home and jumping into a beat-up car with only what they can carry, before hitting the road. With the practiced feel of it, for the two of them, it feels already like a pattern.

When their car breaks down on the way to Boston, The Emerald City as it were, they seem always on that path, but then they get stuck in a small town after the two are caught at a diner trying to snatch a free meal. The diner’s owner, a kindly man named Marty (Richard Kind) doesn’t punish but rather offers help and gives Rita a job. It’s not long after when things begin to come together, including a home, a steady school, and maybe even a future. But nothing lasts forever.

Holmes, working on a script by Josh Boone, himself the director of 2014’s The Fault in Our Stars, All We Had is as much a story about the plight of many as it is a story about a women struggling to find her way clean. An alcoholic who has come upon hard time after hard time, Rita is a compelling character that clings to the highs she so rarely finds, and sinks into the holes when she falls into them. While Holmes does well in the role, she shows a lot of promise behind the camera, patient, controlled, and nuanced. 

The script is not one of surprises, nor is it expected to be. Things have a way of finding connections and the conflicts, while sometimes gripping, are easily solved. The film tries to balance the themes of a middle America in financial crisis with its effects on the people who live in its shadow, but does this with passing images of closed mom and pop shops and abandoned homes without really giving it the weight it needs. It works better as a personal journey though, and finds more traction as a story about change rather than ruin.

Holmes is very good as Rita, appearing as bedraggled and as broken down as her car. There’s a powerful scene when she realizes this when the man who is fixing her car doesn’t get her offer to settle payment “a different way” since she has no money. It’s a devastating moment of truth. Holmes surrounds herself with some solid talent, including Owen who is very good as the daughter pinched between two collapsing worlds, forced to grow up far too fast. Having seen the worst in people, and best in her mother, she is more a partner in their plight than the child. Her story is as much a reflection of Rita as it is an odyssey of self discovery.

All We Had
All We Had, 2016 © Gravitas Ventures

Luke Wilson shows up as Lee, also a recovering alcoholic that has a few good moments, but like many in the story, provides more solutions to problems than anything, though perhaps that is no different than real life, but feels a little too on the nose here. Richard Kind, for example, is also very good, but his character is nothing but altruistic throughout. His nephew is Pam (Eve Lindley) a transgender with big dreams who knows all to well about life kicking back, and has a touch of influence on them both as well, though Lindley is strong here and would have made for a great film all on her own. Interestingly, Judy Greer arrives for less than a minute and disappears, having me convinced there is a subplot somewhere littered on a cutting room floor, as it were.

All We Had is a gentle film, slowly-paced and crafted to be more of a slice of life than a complete story, even if it ends on a note that feels more concrete than it should. Holmes, who not long ago was an “It” girl in huge demand, has made what might be considered a courageous transition here, and while the movie is familiar, it reveals she’s far from done.

All We Had (2016)

Movie description: All We Had is a 2016 drama about a mother and daughter with little to their names who try to make a new start somewhere on the road.

Director(s): Katie Holmes

Actor(s): Eve Lindley, Richard Kind, Mark Consuelos, Luke Wilson

Genre: Drama

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