in partnership
(Credit: Bleecker Street)

First-time writer/director tackles family issues in buzzed about film, 'What They Had'

Elizabeth Chomko is the writer and director of "What They Had", a new movie full of humor - and heartbreak. The story was inspired by her own family.

"My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease sixteen years ago," said Chomko. "And it was incredibly difficult and painful for our family - but it was also interesting in crazy ways. I think I was not prepared at all for how much we would laugh."

The drama features an all-star cast, led by Bellingham native and Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank.

"Hilary came aboard very early," said Chomko. "She was the first piece of cast, the first actor who was willing to take the risk on this screenplay and on me as a first time director. She became a true champion and partner and supporter, and her instincts are so strong. I could not have made this movie without her."

Michael shannon, Blythe Danner and Robert Forster play Swank's brother and parents, a family on the brink of big changes.

"When you have a cast like that, and they're so well cast - which I really felt that they all were perfect, absolutely perfect. You are just sort of sitting there watching and pinching yourself," said Chomko. "They all taught me so much more. They were so supportive and helped me walk through things that I had not done before."

For Chomko, and everyone involved in the film, it was truly a labor of love.

"You just have to take one moment at a time, know your story and trust your collaborators," she said. "Then just not hold to tightly on it, and let it evolve into the magic that walks in on the day."

One actor is especially near and dear to her - Jay Montepare, her husband.

"Jay is in the movie briefly," she smiles. "He's a standup comic, and he's also sort of an all-encompassing home construction-like carpentry woodworker. He's really an amazing spouse because he doesn't watch sports and he's funny and he's handy. It's great. But he is in the movie and he's wonderful in it."

The reviews are pouring in, and so far critics are universally praising this movie.

"It's a long journey and it's a seven year process from when I started the first draft to here this moment today," said the proud director. "I didn't have huge expectations for the script when I wrote it it was all about the writing of it. And then the making of it and the process - it was all about getting through grief and working through, that so this moment is profoundly cool and the icing on cake."