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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look46.43%
Average: 21.43%
Pretty Bad: 3.57%
Total Crap: 28.57%

4 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Winter Passing
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A movie that will leave you even more depressed than the characters"
1 stars

“Winter Passing” is a film that is so dour and depressing that the only way that I can think of for audiences to survive it is to mix some Prozac in with their Junior Mints. I mean, I have seen some grim and emotionally withdrawn films before (hell, I saw it the same day as “Manderlay,” a feat which should hopefully earn myself some hazard pay) but I can’t remember one in recent memory quite as unpleasant as this one. Here is a film that is so determined to make sure that audiences understand the anguish beneath every scene that it actually stoops to bringing on an adorable kitten only to reveal a few moments later that it is suffering from terminal feline leukemia and then giving us an unspeakable bit in which the grieving owner puts the kitty in a gym bag and tosses it in the river to drown.

Zooey Deschanel, who seems to be competing for the Parker Posey Memorial Award for Ubiquity, stars as Reese Holden, a depressed young woman with a recently deceased mother, an estranged and reclusive father (Ed Harris), a failing career as an actress, the aforementioned dying kitty and a propensity for slamming drawers shut on her hand–you know, because she’d rather feel bad than feel nothing at all, to quote the late and great Warren Zevon. It turns out that Mom and Dad were both famous authors in their day before one died and the other became a recluse and a book agent (Amy Madigan) offers Reese a ton of money for the publishing rights to the old love letters that they wrote while courting during their literary heydays. Feeling no particular love for her past, Reese agrees and ventures out to her father’s home in Michigan to retrieve the letters.

When she arrives, she finds that Dad has a couple of unexpected houseguests staying with him, both with their own sets of personal problems. Corbit (Will Ferrell) is a strange Jesus freak who fancies himself a rock musician despite an inability to play and sing in public at the same time. Shelly (Amelia Warner) is a grad student who seems to now be dedicating her life to nursing Dad back to health, possibly her response to having undergone an operation that left her unable to have children. As time passes, Reese discovers some hidden truths and buried secrets (literally in one instance) about her parents lives, her mother’s death and her own place in the world. For their part, the others all have their own personal emotional breakthroughs right when the screenplay requires them to and it all ends in a great big soup of people coming to terms with themselves.

The problem with “Winter Passing” is not the fact that it is telling the story of a group of seriously depressed people struggling to cope with the world around them. The real problem is that debuting writer-director Adam Rapp gets so bogged down with the sufferings of his various characters that it becomes suffocating to watch after a while. Too often, he throws in details that are meant to seem quirky but which only come off as too precious for words–Harris has inexplicably set up his late wife’s bedroom furniture as a shrine in the back yard, a detail that is somewhat unlikely in midwinter Michigan (especially keeping the photos on the bureau). Even the rare attempts at lightening the mood–such as the manner in which Ferrell tries to overcome his fear at an open-mike night–are put together in such a way that it feels as if Rapp is deliberately trying to kill the laughs so as not to upset his precious mood.

It seems insane to cast someone like Deschanel, one of the merriest actresses working today, and force her to do nothing but mope relentlessly for 95 minutes without ever given her a chance to show another side to her personality. It’s not a bad performance, and she is probably the only worthwhile element here, but it is one that is depressingly one-note. Harris, on the other hand, overdoes the tortured artist schtick to such a degree that it feels at times as though we are watching some of the early rushes of “Pollack” before he finally settled into the character. As for Ferrell, in his first full-on straight part, he isn’t too bad but he doesn’t bring anything to the part that might suggest why Rapp would want to cast him in the first place except to lure in unsuspecting fans hoping to see another Ron Burgundy turn.

In fact, there are times when things began to get so grim during “Winter Passing”that I started t become convinced that the film was actually trying to be a brilliantly poker-faced spoof of depressing indie films–at the very least, it might have explained Ferrell’s presence. Sadly, the film is meant to be deadly and earnestly serious and the only laughs that will be heard are the snarky ones from the more incredulous viewers in the audience.

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originally posted: 03/10/06 15:50:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/08/17 Cats drool, dogs rule Creep factor. New girl has several themes with cat-hate humor. Sullen, directionless plot. 1 stars
12/08/06 William Goss Zooey mopes around. Harris mopes around. Ferrell mopes around. Repeat. Typical indie fare. 2 stars
10/11/06 Indrid A well done, low-key drama/comedy. Maybe a little too low-key though. 4 stars
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  17-Feb-2006 (R)
  DVD: 16-May-2006



Directed by
  Adam Rapp

Written by
  Adam Rapp

  Zooey Deschanel
  Will Ferrell
  Ed Harris
  Amy Madigan
  Rachel Dratch
  Sam Bottoms

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