The title proves apt as it seems like all of the indie cliches have been given their due, which would have been fine if Boone's screenplay took an honest approach to working-class hardship. You know things are bad when troubled, alcoholic mom Rita (Holmes) is forced to perform restroom dental surgery to remove an aching tooth. Followed by a quick stop at the Qwik-E-Mart so teen daughter Ruthie (Owen) can cuff some aspirin and Red Bull, it's clear these two aren't living high on the hog. And if that wasn't enough Rita's heavy eye shadow and collection of skanky denim skirts is enough to inform us of their poor white trash status.
Fresh from jetting from a foreclosed home in a small town, we quickly gather it's a pattern, they pile into mom's jalopy and drive east towards Boston. But after their ride bursts into flames and they can't pay the repair bill (despite Ruthie offering the mechanic an "alternate" form of payment), they settle down in a nearby diner, Tiny's Grub 'n Go. Despite the kind-hearted owner Marty (Richard Kind) and his transgender nephew Pam (Eve Lindley), they try to skip out on the bill only to have the car breakdown feet away. Seeing it as a sign from God (for a brief moment Rita is a woman of faith), they return and, because this is how things work in the easy-solution script by Boone, they are just offered waitressing jobs out of the kindness of Marty's heart.
So much is piled on Ruthie and Rita that little of it gets the appropriate amount of attention. Rita's bad taste in men resurfaces, only this time the smooth-talker is a real estate agent (Mark Consuelos) who convinces her to buy a home. No money down, of course, since they can barely afford food to eat. Soon after the economic downturn hits and things start getting tight around the diner; Pam is bullied for her sexual identity; Ruthie gets in with the wrong crowd at school, etc. etc. etc. Most of these could carry their own movie but here they are brushed aside handily. For instance, a curious plot point finds Rita suddenly growing ill, leaving us to wonder how they'll handle this country's shaky healthcare situation. But nah, it's solved moments later and never mentioned again. What was the point? It seems that Boone and co-writer Jill Killington were unsure which aspects of Weatherwax's novel to edit out, so they just kept it all in. There are a few moments of levity and hopefulness but even they smack as all-too-convenient, like the arrival of a perfectly decent gentleman (Luke Wilson) into Rita's life who, shocker, is also a recovering alcoholic. AND a dentist! Score!
Fortunately, Holmes is still a gifted talent in front of the camera, and she shares a number of engaging moments with Owen. Owen recently stole the show in J.D. Salinger drama Coming Through the Rye and she proves once again why she's a future star. The film's best moments are of her and Holmes together, as Rita and Ruthie's mutual flaws (The apple doesn't fall far) bind them together and drive them apart in equal measure. But that mother/daughter bond is always the film's beating heart, with Holmes capturing the emotional intimacy that comes along with it. Holmes doesn't leave much of a distinctive mark as a director, this isn't the kind of story that calls for it, but as we see the film dedicated to her daughter Suri it's clearer why All We Had was her choice to embark on a new career path.
Rating: 3 out of 5