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flick pick | Winter Passing 2005
Directed + written by: Adam Rapp
Starring: Zooey Deschanel, Ed Harris, Will Ferrell, Amelia Warner
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:  quintessentially quasi-adult, serious
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis Reese Holden is a young actress living alone in New York, beginning to find some small success on the stage even as her personal life continues to be a train wreck of drugs, loser guys and depression. After one of her shows, a well-dressed older woman approaches her. Introducing herself as a book editor, she offers Reese a good chunk of money if Reese can procure a set of love letters that her recently deceased famous writer mom once exchanged with her even more famous, very reclusive writer dad, Don Holden. Turns out that Reese’s mom willed her the letters upon her death -- though this is news to Reese, who’s been estranged from her family for years -- and the literary world is very keen to publish them. Though she’s reluctant to get back in touch with her dad, the money ultimately sways her, and soon, Reese finds herself on a bus ride back to the family home in Michigan. There, she finds her father living in the garage, looking like a madman, and acting just as unhinged. The main house, meanwhile, is occupied by two folks Reese has never seen before in her life: an awkward, Christian-rock-loving man-child, Corbit, who serves as a sort of caretaker for the grounds and fends off Don’s literary groupees, as well as a young, pretty Brit named Shelly, who used to be one Don’s writing students, and now oversees the cooking and housework. As Reese surreptitiously starts scouring for the letters, she finds herself getting to know her dad’s new housemates, and confronting her long-repressed issues with her Dad and upbringing as well.

Review Glance at the DVD cover for Winter Passing, and you’re likely to assume it’s a quirky comedy of the Wes Anderson variety. You’ve got four people, possibly family, looking kinda funny and staring deadpan serious into the camera as they’re squeezed into a box of a room. And one of these folks is Will Ferrell. Sounds like the perfect set-up for some good laughs, no? As it turns out, though, Winter Passing isn’t a comedy. At all. Dealing with themes of death, and depression, and disconnectedness, it’s actually fairly serious dramatic stuff. This might make for some pretty dismal, woe-is-me viewing, if it weren’t for the fact that first-time writer-director Adam Rapp turns out to have some talent for getting us to think about all these issues without hitting us over the head with histrionics and sentimentality. Instead, he focuses on developing the main characters, all of whom are fragile and flawed and nicely layered. The acting is beautiful, from Zooey Deschanel as acerbic Reese, to Ed Harris as the grieving mad genius writer Don, to Amelia Warner as the quiet English girl whose outer sweetness hides real strength. But the big surprise is Will Ferrell, whose Corbit ends up being the character you feel for the most. It’s not an entire departure from his usual man-child persona, but for once, Ferrell doesn’t play the character for laughs, showing that he’s not just a funnyman but an actor with real potential. Meanwhile, Rapp gives his talented cast good dialogue to work with, a terrific soundtrack (featuring indie faves like Cat Power and the Shins), and achingly lovely cinematography (the wintry Michigan landscape should maybe get billing as the fifth star of the movie). Its ending is probably a little too neat, the pacing just a tad bit slow, but there’s enough that’s right about this quiet, unassuming little movie that you’d be smart not to let it pass by.—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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