Katie Holmes makes an undistinguished helming debut with “All We Had,” a middlebrow drama with no pretensions but also no depth. Based on Annie Weatherwax’s novel about a zero-income mother-daughter duo hit hard by the economic downturn, the pic is laid low by a banal script that takes the easy path at every turn, resulting in a yet another movie of good intentions and weak delivery. Performances are the strong suit, especially Luke Wilson, whose discreet, fully engaged conception of character makes prosaic dialogue feel real. Holmes and Wilson combined should generate enough interest to see decent VOD traffic.
Thanks to a cliched voice-over and over-explanatory conversation, all background info deemed necessary is spoon-fed within the first five minutes. Rita (Holmes) and her 14-year-old Ruthie (Stefania Owen, “The Carrie Diaries”) are all alone in the world, exiting yet another town where they can’t pay their bills. Rita’s string tops and thickly applied eye liner pretty much announce her economic status — and who knows when she worked last, if ever?
While heading east, they try to do a runner at a diner, but when the car breaks down, Rita sees it as a sign and goes back to apologize. Kindly owner Marty (Richard Kind) takes pity and hires her despite the absence of qualifications, and Rita begins waitressing alongside his chatty but sweet transsexual niece Pam (Eve Lindley).
For once, life might be looking up: they’re not sleeping in the car, Rita is earning a little dough, and Ruthie found a friend in Pam. “Having a place to sleep allowed us to dream,” Ruthie says in voice-over, though she’s suspicious when Mom’s real estate agent beau Vic (Mark Consuelos) convinces Rita she can buy a house with no money down. Then again, Ruthie is suspicious of all men in her mother’s life, even bashful recovering alcoholic widower Lee (Wilson), the local dentist.
Things at school are also troubled when bookworm Ruthie tentatively joins the tough crowd to fit in. Mean girl? Of course: Katherine Reis. No-nonsense but secretly decent principal? Check: Siobhan Fallon. Just when those difficulties seem to be resolving themselves, the economic crisis hits, and Rita realizes they’ll be out on the street again.
Despite reasonably sympathetic characters, “All We Had” is ultimately the sort of run-of-the-mill story that’s hard to distinguish from countless other modest efforts boasting a few recognizable names and little else. Holmes’ direction is unassuming and straightforward, with occasional unfortunate flourishes such as a slow-mo scene of Rita and Ruthie frolicking in the rain: It neither conjures mood nor reinforces a relationship already clearly established, largely thanks to the nice chemistry between Holmes and Owen. The best ingredient is Wilson, whose vocal inflections and hesitant manner make him the one figure who doesn’t need expository dialogue to fill out the role. Music is used in a half-hearted manner.