Winter Passing (Adam Rapp, 2005)

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The very worst I can say about Winter Passing (2005), is that it is competent. That’s one step above average but without the glaring mistakes. The one thing an average film has over something like Winter Passing is a moment or two of “exceptional”, a shining light within the realm of mediocrity. Winter Passing has moments that approach this ethereal greatness, but manages to scoot just beyond reaching them. I think this is the case of a little too much restraint; the fear of failure holds the filmmaker back from taking risks, and without risks I think it’s difficult to create truly passionate and memorable art. I don’t think this film is a failure, nor even necessarily forgettable or unremarkable, it simply exists in a world of niceness. The writer/director, Adam Rapp, actually strikes me as a man with a lot of potential. There is very little he actually does wrong here, and especially for a first time director, his ability to hold back and allow the actions and characters to take place is admirable. He has confidence in his writing, and his filmmaking reflects that, but there is still some fear he needs to overcome to break out of the mould of the American Independent scene.

Winter Passing is a film about grief, loneliness and dysfunction. It skirts being quirky, which is welcome, especially since it had the potential to go the “safe” root of mainstream character novelty. The characters, though offbeat, manage to avoid being overtly strange or eccentric. They are created and performed as real human beings, with real human emotions. The film creates a mood of pervading depression and loneliness, that works to support a lack of exposition and explanation for certain events. It doesn’t fully make up for a weakness in the relationships established through the writing, but it is enough that the audience is willing to accept things are they are. There are no real moments of doubt that what is unfolding is untrue, there is a strong sense that we’re peeking into the lives of people who exist beyond the boundaries of the frame and story. There is something off about the arrangement in the film though, and it begins to fall apart somewhat once you start thinking about it.

The content itself is rather pedestrian; a family member’s death changes people’s lives, as well as bring back horrible memories. It’s done in a skilful, though as I’ve been really been driving at hard, not exceptionally exciting or interesting way. The script still is good considering, and the cast rather exceptional at embodying the state of minds of the various characters. Deschanel and Warner are especially strong, and the best scenes are between them. Both seem to fill the role of the daughter, one biological, the other quasi-adopted. Their experiences with the father figure are rather polarizing, they are eventually brought together by a common understanding and love for him. Their own relationship grows, and without having to rely on a scene or moment where there is a “revelation”, the film allows it to materialize as characters themselves mature and grow aware of themselves and their situation.

Though not particularly bowled over by this film, I have a mild feeling that it will be one I’d like to revisit sometimes. It has a certain warmth that it’s endearing, and it captures family and relationship dynamics earnestly. It hits close to home in some respects, at least moments of loneliness and reaching out to “feel” something. The film is wonderfully subtle, and reminds me how much I enjoy watching both Warner and Deschanel on the screen. Warner especially hasn’t been able to really break it into big or popular films, but both seem to exist on a fringe level. Even Will Ferrell is quite good in a supporting role. Overall, I’d recommend it mildly. I think people in their twenties might especially take a liking to it, and I do realise how broad a generalization that is.
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