Years of work in the theater has clearly given playwright Adam Rapp a trust in actors; on the surface, his first feature film, Winter Passing, looks like just another generic indie melodrama (gritty cinematography, Matador Records bands on the soundtrack, oddball characters), but it distinguishes itself thanks to assured performances that burn with quiet conviction. Most impressive is Zooey Deschanel as Reese Holden, a downtown actress whose life consists of acting in small, arty theater pieces, tending bar and doing blow—and sleepwalking through all three. Her aimlessness, nicely characterized in early scenes, is due to her relationship with her fractured family—particularly her father, a famously reclusive author (Ed Harris in a Rip Van Winkle wig). Homages to Salinger, Carver and other iconic American authors dot Rapp's story about Reese returning home, after her mother's death, with the intent of selling her parents' love letters to a hungry publisher (Amy Madigan). But these literary touches do little to help the central family drama, which is predictable and plagued by the combination of cuteness and contrivance that often pops up in Rapp's stage work. Still, Winter Passing showcases Rapp's clever, conversational dialogue (save for a couple of long monologues that clash with the otherwise naturalistic tone), while Harris, Deschanel, and Will Ferrell—on hand for comic relief as a Christian rocker turned literary bouncer—breathe life into this whimsical, but ultimately conventional, family drama. (James C. Taylor) (Edwards University, Irvine)
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.