Winter Passing
directed by Adam Rapp
(Focus, 2005)

You look at this film, especially the cover, and you think quirky comedy. Will Ferrell is in it, so you know it has to be a comedy. Well, it is quirky, but Winter Passing is not a comedy; it's actually a pretty bleak, depressing film. Seemingly by design, the film defies your attempts to get your mind around what is going on.

Reese, the main character, is a complex, bitter young woman who seems about one disappointment away from killing herself. The kitten scene, which you may have heard of, was especially off-putting to me. I can see how it fits into the movie as a whole, and it's actually a pretty basic, simple scene, but this animal lover didn't see it coming, found it pretty heartbreaking and struggled to put it behind me as the story progressed. (Had I known about this one scene, I doubt I would ever have watched this movie. I'm not trying to turn anyone away when I say this, though, because this really is an excellent, compelling film.)

Great characters make for great films, and Winter Passing has three, almost four, of them. None of them are exactly normal, though. The aforementioned Reese (Zooey Deschanel) is a down-and-almost-out actress/barmaid in New York going nowhere fast. Looking at her, you would never know she was the daughter of two prominent writers, neither of whom she has seen in years. She didn't even go home for her mother's funeral. Her father is something of a recluse who disappeared from the scene a while back. Reese really has no plans of ever going home to Michigan again -- not until, that is, a literary agency offers her a hundred grand for the letters her parents exchanged early in their relationship. Reese doesn't exactly jump at the money, initially telling the literary agent to go jump. Later, though, as she further succumbs to her depression and thinks about how much cocaine and cigarettes $100,000 would buy, she changes her mind and catches a bus bound for the Wolverine State.

Returning to the home of so many bad childhood memories, she is met at the door by a stranger, a pretty strange stranger in the form of Corbit (Ferrell), a quiet and somewhat childlike "rocker" who once played in a Christian rock band but now acts as a bodyguard of sorts for her dad. Shelly (Amelia Warner), a former student of her dad's, also lives there, sort of classing up the joint with her accent and doing the cooking and cleaning for Corbit and Reese's father, who has now taken up residence in the garage out back. The acclaimed writer (played brilliantly by Ed Harris) is really a broken man: long, unkempt hair, a glass of liquor perpetually in his hand, unwilling or unable to feed or take care of himself and writing very little.

This bizarre living situation does nothing to improve Reese's outlook on life, which leads to conflict with both her father and Shelly. It's basically dysfunctionality squared, leading up to some real emotional fireworks after she discovers exactly how her mother died. Reese originally came to find the set of letters her mother left her, but she ends up staying several days and discovering a lot of more about her father and herself. Some emotional issues do get resolved between the main characters, but this isn't exactly the feel-good movie of the year. I would not advise anyone to watch this movie if they're already feeling depressed.

This is an excellent, albeit unconventional, film. The film is probably too dark and weird for some people, and others may just be mad because they expected it to be funny, but it's really quite a touching film in its own way, and it has a lot to say about life in general. Ferrell really shows his acting chops in his out-of-character performance as Corbit, Deschanel seems to be seizing the troubled young woman reins once wielded by Wynona Rider, and Harris is simply superb in his portrayal of the alcoholic, shambling father. The atmosphere and flow of the film really fit the conditions and characters, the writer and director never sell out or overexploit the melodrama borne of the characters' relationships and the ending doesn't overextend itself across the bounds of believability. Wild Passing is a difficult film to describe; you really have to experience it for yourself.

review by
Daniel Jolley

4 September 2010

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