“Winter Passing” stars Zooey Deschanel, she of the not so innocent wide-eyed look. She plays Reese Holden, daughter of eccentric novelist Don Holden, played by Ed Harris. Reese is a struggling stage actress working in fringe theater in Manhattan and bartending to pay the bills. In addition to her lower-Manhattan bohemian look she brings an actresses’ requisite set of unhealthy relationships and a serious case of self-loathing to the role. Reese is approached by a publisher offering a handsome payday for some letters between her estranged father and her recently deceased mother. This sends Reese slinking home to Michigan in search of the letters.
Ms. Deschanel is a wonderfully talented actress with a gift for expressing a dozen thoughts in a single look. She can also be biting with a seemingly casual line. She uses her talents to full effect as she returns home to confront her father and the ad hoc family he’s assembled. Everything up this point has been set-up and it’s here that the movie either takes flight or remains grounded. Unfortunately the news is not good.
The talented Ed Harris is mostly wasted as Don Holden, the supposed brilliant but eccentric novelist and absentee father. Apparently a recluse it turns out he’d been teaching at a nearby college in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Maybe they just weren’t looking hard enough for him. Any way he clearly has his demons. We know this because he stumbles around in his bathrobe with a fright wig for hair knocking back whiskey like water and refusing food. Talk about clichés.
Don’s right hand man is Corbit, played by the irrepressible Will Ferrell. Corbit acts as bodyguard, handyman and deranged caddy to the novelist. His performance is familiar here as he serves up deadpan goofy stares and tossed-off random pronouncements. A former rhythm guitarist for a Christian Rock band he spends his time now in a delusional fog, more ward than caretaker. He’s always a pleasure to watch as he manages a rare vulnerability coupled with a manic energy.
Mr. Ferrell’s performance stands out in the film, unfortunately he appears to be in a completely different film than everyone else. Still he’s funny and a welcome relief from the dull gyrations the rest of the cast is forced to perform.
“Winter Passing” was written and directed by Adam Rapp. His experience includes work as a playwright and novelist and in fact the film feels like it may actually have worked better as a play, as most of the action is set in and around the Michigan home of the Holden’s. With a cast this good it’s a shame there wasn’t a more compelling plot to drive the action. I’m Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine International.
© 2006 - Erik Petersen - Air Date: 3/15/06
USA - 2005