I try not to throw out slogans like “tour de force” (French Toast for “powerful ride”) but I’m going to break tradition and do so here. Winter Passing IS a tour de force! It’s also a coming out party for one of my favorite underground actors, Ms. Zooey Deschanel (of the Louisville Deschanel’s).
Winter Passing is proof positive that great thematic film still exists, though it’s also proof that these types of efforts rarely get wide distribution or marketing dollars thrown at them. Winter Passing will most likely pass along like a sob in the dark Dakota night and that’s a shame. Zooey deserves better, she deserves to be above ground acting because she absolutely carries this film on her little shoulders. I also want to point out Amelia Warner’s effort is just as amazing in this one. To have two leads of this caliber is a rare treat.
For film pedigree I think Winter Passing can call Garden State and Elizabethtown closely related. The film probably has lower lows than those two efforts but the comic maudlin outlook is similar. It’s a dramedy about Ed Harris as a famous novelist whose comparably famous wife (also a novelist) has recently died. Zooey (as Reese) is the child of these two comets, a shadow that clearly casts quite a wide spectrum. We meet Reese in the Big Apple auditioning for a part. She’s an actress at the bottom of the rung unlike her reclusive parents who trolled in the stratosphere of the writing world. Reese is sought out by a literary buff that has done some research and is willing to pay her for a group of 150 letters that her father and mother wrote to each other when they were courting, letters her mother left her when she passed away. This “buff” is willing to give her $100,000 to track down the letters at her father’s house and turn them over for publishing. This is where the journey begins. It’s also the last plot point you are getting out of me no matter how coercive your tactics.
The brilliance of Winter Passing is its ability to see life as a non-linear event. I believe this is reality at its finest. People come and go in life, conversations from years past are rekindled, and people change throughout time but can come back to staggering fragilities with maximum velocity. Reese is a girl struggling to feel her way through adulthood, actually just struggling to feel at all. She has been reduced to rubble by her genius parents and they haven’t fared much better. Zooey portrays a gal who is both miniscule and giant in each moment, teetering right on the edge of despair or breakthrough with each step. There is a scene in the first 20 minutes that would have knocked my socks off if hadn’t been wearing sandals.
Will Ferrell plays a sort of caretaker for Reese’s father with great aplomb (as opposed to medium aplomb). He seems woefully miscast at the beginning but his being there begins to make sense about midway through the feature. Near the end he’s no longer Ferrell at all, but something transformative like Sandler in Spanglish or Punch Drunk Love. I’m not sure if Ferrell will continue to seek out dramatic work but I think he’s got a knack for it if he so desires.
Winter Passing is a wonderful film that proves great movies can still be quiet. There’s no CGI or bombs in this one, just a good hearty story with fine acting all around. See it for Zooey, see it to reward a film with plot, see it to discover a director (Adam Rapp) with major potential. C’mon real film fans, we have only yet begun to fight.