Not unpleasant nor particularly rewarding, Adam Rapp’s debut feature follows a troubled young woman (Zooey Deschanel) home to visit her reclusive novelist father (Ed Harris). This seems altogether sensible after the film’s dreary New York-set opening, complete with the fashionable drug-and-self abuse combination plate. Once Deschanel gets to Michigan, Rapp settles into a serene but peculiarly non-confrontational rhythm; some character motivations actually become less clear as the film goes on. Deschanel is ostensibly there to make some money by retrieving her father’s old letters for publication, and she ostensibly resents her family, and all of the characters and relationships are ostensibly very complex and multifaceted. But really, Winter Passing behaves like a sullen teenager, too moody to tell you exactly what’s wrong. At times, it feels like a comedy-drama with most of the important dramatic scenes excised, leaving only some funny bits surrounded by barren outskirts of seriousness.
Thanks to the cast, the film is only meaningless, not bad company. Deschanel is so effortlessly sympathetic that when she intentionally slams her hand into drawers, we disregard contrivance and instinctively care for her — maybe even her character too, just by association. Will Ferrell does a quiet variation on his familiar man-child persona as the father’s perennial houseguest, getting laughs and generating surprisingly grounded warmth. You can imagine him following Jim Carrey into Eternal Sunshine land at some point, and Rapp can at least take credit for pointing him in that direction.
At its best, Winter Passing plays like a less cornball version of A Love Song for Bobby Long. The downside is the wasting of a much better cast; at its worst, I started to think maybe some corn could’ve only helped.
Opens February 17