A full-bore and extra-melancholy indie flick the likes of which you'll find dozens at Sundance, Adam Rapp's Winter Passing covers a lot of the "alienated and angst-laden artist" material that we've seen in other (and generally better) movies, but this low-key character piece has a few assets that many films do not -- namely: Zooey Deschanel, Will Ferrell, and Ed Harris.
Zooey plays Reese Holdin, daughter to a pair of literary giants, one of whom (her mother) has recently committed suicide. Reese chose not to attend the funeral. But when an enthusiastic book editor visits Reese (and promises her 100 grand for some old memoirs), the sullen young woman boards a NYC train and heads back to the old Michigan homestead. There she finds a grizzled, drunken, and frequently deluded Dad (Ed Harris), a mildly weird man-child / servant boy (Will Ferrell), and a lovely young British woman who may or may not be shtupping the legendary Don Holdin.
Winter Passing is one of those movies in which unhappy characters arrive at life-altering revelations while digging back into the (often unpleasant) past, only to turn out New & Improved after all's said and done. Speaking solely on the surface level, this is not a particularly unique concept.
First-time writer/director Adam Rapp (brother of Rent star Anthony Rapp, who makes an amusing cameo appearance here) is not content to coast by on the talents of his three leads; Winter Passing might end up somewhere you've already anticipated, but it takes a rather curious path to the finish line. Those who go in expecting push-button sentimentality or last-minute flourishes of unconvincing schmaltz will be impressed with the ways in which Rapp maintains his tone: down and melancholy, but with just a small sprinkle of hopefulness.
It's Zooey's flick all the way, but Harris does a lot with a surprisingly small role, and Will Ferrell does a lot towards convincing folks that he's not just a one-note clown. Remember when Robin Williams started stretching just a little and had people muttering, "Hey, he's not such a bad actor..."? That's the sort of performance that Ferrell gives here; it's sweet and quietly funny, and just a little bit sad, too -- kind of like the whole movie.
Video: Your choice of anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) or fullscreen. Stick with the former.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, with optional subtitles in English and Spanish.
Extras: Just the theatrical trailer and a 3-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.
Sure, sure, perhaps the doom & gloom routine is ladled out a little bit thick in Act I, but once you get comfortable with Winter Passing's quartet of characters, the flick finds its feet and ends up making for a strangely moving experience.