JOE SWANBERG'S Digging for Fire opens with a married couple (Jake Johnson and Rosemarie DeWitt) and their three-year-old walking into what will become the setting for the whole movie. "Is dis owa new house?" the child asks. (I attribute the fact that this kid gets far too much screen time to the probably-not-coincidental fact he's played by Swanberg's son).
A few minutes of nothing follows—except to set up that they're house-sitting for one of the wife's yoga clients—and then Johnson's character finds a human-looking bone and a rusted gun buried in the hill behind the house. Hooray, you think. This movie's actually going somewhere!
There's probably a mumblecore Chekhov's gun joke to be made here, where if someone finds a gun in the first act, you'll want to shoot yourself with it by the third. But I'm actually impressed with Swanberg's ability to sprinkle just enough breadcrumbs of possible foreshadowing through this forest of dull white ennui to keep me from walking back to my car. Nothing ever happens, but he's great at spacing out hints that it might.
Swanberg (and possibly Johnson, who gets co-writer credit) has a Woody Allen-like belief in the meaningfulness of party conversation—only instead of overwrought, wine-enhanced East Coast repartee, Swanberg favors underwrought musings over backyard IPAs. His West Coast new bohemians are dull yet thoughtful, attractive yet unfulfilled. Digging for Fire is an easy target for haters, and there are times it feels like unintentional parody of LA faux-earnestness. Like when absolutely nothing happens for 17 minutes, and then some indie wondercore music swells in to introduce... Rosemarie DeWitt doing some laundry, everyone! Life's so rad.
When DeWitt's character leaves to visit her parents, Johnson stays behind at Yoga HQ. He wants to dig for more bones, while the ol' ball and chain wants him to leave her client's yard alone and finish their taxes. Swanberg's low-stakes, improv-y style could've worked here if the realism it created wasn't in direct conflict with this awful setup. The boy wants to search for mystery! The girl wants him to do taxes! That's either a hacky According to Jim plot or the most ham-fisted "put away childish things" metaphor ever. It's impossible to watch people discuss their dreams and have intense conversations after that artificial a setup, and it poisons the whole thing.