Winter Passing (2005) / Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language, drug use, and sexuality
Running Time: 98 min.

Cast: Zooey Deschanel, Ed Harris, Will Ferrell, Amelia Warner, Amy Madigan, Rachel Dratch (cameo)
Director: Adam Rapp
Screenplay: Adam Rapp
Review published May 26, 2006

Slow and somewhat of a downer, Winter Passing may not exactly be everyone's cup of tea, especially if they make the mistake of thinking it might be a quirky comedy, given the casting of Deschanel (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Eulogy) and Ferrell (Bewitched, Kicking & Screaming).  This is a serious movie featuring serious issues about life, love, death, loneliness, despair, and acceptance.  Despite its seriousness, it isn't a must-see film either, as much of this ground has been covered before in recent years, most notably in the troubled alcoholic writer drama A Love Song for Bobby Long, as well as the troubled girl coming home to find something redeeming in her crackpot father's writings in Proof.    If you've seen and enjoyed those films, you probably might find enough merit in Winter Passing to justify at least a rental; if those films did nothing for you, you might want to pass this one right by.

Deschanel stars as a starving New York actress/bartender named Reese, the daughter of two of the country's most famous writers.  One day, Reese is approached by an earnest book publisher in securing the rights to publish a series of letters written between her parents, showcasing the tumultuous, dysfunctional relationship that eventually concluded with the Reese's mother taking her own life.   With all expenses paid for by the publisher, Reese must travel back to her small town home in Michigan to retrieve these letters, but finds that her father Don (Harris, A History of Violence) has taken a real downturn in his mental health.  To ease his loneliness and anguish, he has turned to alcohol to squash the pain, and has allowed a couple of other misfits to room with him in his near-dilapidated house.   

Winter Passing is a lackadaisical, oddball drama, interesting in terms of portraying a new form of family unity among broken-down eccentrics, but never really driving home any real feeling for the characters in anything except the most superficial of ways.  The story intentionally meanders, much like the course of Reese's life, without meaning or obvious direction, occasionally rooting itself into something worthwhile before breaking free again and moving on to its next seemingly random destination.  Along the way, Reese is able to find some solace and understanding of who she is and the events that led to her unhappy life, although it is clear by the end of the film that the years-long healing process has only begun for her.

Although I'm generally giving Winter Passing a passing (no pun intended) grade, I do feel the need to reiterate that those seeking this film out because of the casting may want to think twice about it.  Will Ferrell provides a certain comic relief playing a bizarre but likeable character, but Ferrell's acting leaves much to be desired here, as he bumbles his way through dramatic scenes looking like he's clueless on how to act when he can't be funny.  Ed Harris, generally a very good actor, isn't really playing to his strengths here in a somewhat underwritten role as the self-loathing father that is an empty shell of his former self.  It's interesting to see Deschanel take on a serious drama, but not really enough to think that she needs to be tackling more of them anytime soon.  Warner (Love's Brother, Aeon Flux) brings a sense of near normalcy to the quartet, but her role is one more of narrative convenience than necessity.

Winter Passing, like the character of Reese herself, is peculiar enough to hold your interest, but there always seems to be something just a little off about it to ever embrace fully.   There are moments here and there that do strike a chord, and yet, the overall film never really congeals into a substantive, satisfying whole.  In short, it's too good at times to dismiss, yet too flawed to ever really compel us with authenticity of character or richness of theme.

 Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo