'All We Had': Tribeca Review

Holmes gives a strong performance in this overly earnest indie drama.

Katie Holmes stars in her directorial debut about a mother and daughter struggling to survive financially.

It's easy to see why Katie Holmes picked Annie Weatherwax's acclaimed 2014 novel to make her directorial debut. Concerning the travails of a homeless single mother and her teenage daughter, the story packs in enough hot-button social issues to have fueled an entire season of The Oprah Winfrey Show. They're all there, from the financial crisis to subprime housing loans to alcoholism to homelessness to teen drug abuse to tolerance of the transgender community. The film also provides the talented actress with her meatiest role since 2003's Pieces of April.

Unfortunately, All We Had, receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, is less edifying for the viewer than its director/producer/star. Somehow managing to feel rushed and plodding at the same time, it reeks of well-intentioned indie movie clichés. It's the sort of film in which the main characters display their resiliency by standing joyfully in a pouring rain.  

The story begins with Rita (Holmes) and her 15-year-old daughter Ruthie (Stefania Owen) fleeing an abusive boyfriend, with Ruthie informing us about the situation via, you guessed it, somber voiceover narration.

This being the sort of tale whose central characters would envy Job, their car promptly bursts into flames, with the pair not having enough money to pay for its repair. Rita even offers herself sexually to the mechanic, who thoughtfully declines her services but at least offers a discount.

Not long after, the pair stops at the aptly named roadside diner Tiny's, where they're warmly greeted by its owner Marty (Richard Kind) and its transgender waitress Pam (Eve Lindley). Despite the kindness they're shown — Marty even throws in free blueberry muffins — they flee before paying for the meal. Wouldn't you know it, their car again breaks down before they can travel 100 feet. Ruthie, believing it's a sign from God, trudges back to apologize to Marty, who, instead of calling the police, promptly offers her a job.

In no time flat, mother and daughter own their own house, courtesy of smooth-talking real-estate broker Vic (Mark Consuelos) with whom Rita has struck up a romance. Ruthie begins attending high school and falling in with the wrong crowd, much to the disapproval of the stern principal (Siobhan Fallon) who lives just across the street from their new home.

Rita and Vic's relationship ends as quickly as it began, and she rebounds with Lee (Luke Wilson), who she first met at the diner when he drunkenly threw up on her. But since then Lee, who reveals that his wife had died suddenly two years earlier, has cleaned up his act. He even manages to get Rita to join him in AA.

As the above summary indicates, All We Had is packed to the gills with plot developments; screenwriters Josh Boone and Jill Killington were apparently unwilling to leave out anything from the novel. The dizzying procession of events often seems to have little rhyme or reason, such as when Rita develops a nasty cough that seems to indicate we're heading into tearjerker territory. But no, she merely gets sick, and then she gets better. Similarly, Ruthie's lapse into drug use ends as quickly as it begins, thanks to a stern rebuke by the principal.

Despite its frustratingly wandering narrative, All We Had does manage to pull you in, thanks largely to its moving depiction of the mother-daughter bond at its center. Often positioning the two characters so that they're seen holding each other tightly, Holmes vividly renders their closeness physically as well as emotionally (it's not surprising that the film is dedicated to her daughter Suri). Both actresses are outstanding, with Holmes powerfully conveying Rita's maternal fierceness as well as her deep flaws, and Owen sensitively matching her beat-for-beat. The supporting players are equally fine; Lindley is touching as the waitress who dreams of going to New York City and becoming a star; Kind effectively suppresses his comic talents as the kindly diner owner; and Wilson effortlessly projects innate decency as the new love interest.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight)
Production: Straight Shot Films, Jaro/Noelle, Mustard & Company
Cast: Katie Holmes, Stefania Owen, Richard Kind, Mark Consuelos, Eve Lindley, Siobhan Fallon, Judy Greer, Luke Wilson
Director: Katie Holmes
Screenwriters: Josh Boone, Jill Killington
Producers: Jane Rosenthal, Katie Holmes, Berry Welsh, Katie Mustard
Executive producers: James L. Dolan, Josh Boon, Jill Killington
Director of photography: Brett Pawlak
Production designer: Michael Fitzgerald
Editor: Robb Sullivan
Costume designer: Brena Abbandandolo
Composer: Michael Brook
Casting: Avy Kaufman

Not rated, 105 minutes