Itís been said that itís easier for a playwright to write a screenplay than vice versa. This has to do with the idea that playwriting is, at its core, a study in character and story above all other things. Most of the time, I agree with this statement: Tony Kushner wrote the scripts for Munich and the magnificent screen adaptation of his Angels in America and Tom Stoppard was a playwright and drama critic long before he wrote Brazil, Empire of the Sun, or Enigma. There are a few dozen more, and sometimes they make pretty excellent directors as well (David Mamet, Neil Labute). Adam Rappís transition, however, isnít as smooth as you might hope.
Reese Holden (Zooey Deschanel) is just another actress trying to make it in New York City. She goes to auditions, works at a bar, and beds other struggling actors who she quickly runs away from the minute the deeds are done. Thereís one hitch: Reeseís father happens to be Don Holden (Ed Harris), a famous writer who specialized in nightmarish scenarios about college students who go on murdering sprees. Reese is propositioned by a publishing agent (Amy Madigan) to go home and retrieve a box of love letters her mother left her and then sell it for publication. After a slight hesitancy, Reese takes the trip to Michigan to get the letters and is surprised when she finds her father living with two strangers. Corbit (Will Ferrell) works as Mr. Holdenís personal assistant and Shelly (Amelia Warner) runs the house and cooks the meals. Reese slowly uncovers secrets about her motherís death and her fatherís neglect that are, to be honest, easy to figure out if youíre really paying attention. Article continues below
Rappís plays, including Stone Cold Dead Serious and Faster (not so much Finer Noble Gases), have always existed in known confines but have found sharp, witty ways to elevate the characters and story above the fray. Winter Passing exists in a much known confine: quirky, troubled offspring returns home to figure self out by dealing with troubled past with parents. Whatís strange is that Rapp doesnít really cause any seizures in the formula besides some short retreats into snappy dialogue. Almost everything goes exactly where the audience expects, and to some degree wants, it to go. Aside from the few moments of witty dialogue, the language gets soggy and simplistic (not in the good way).
The actors push hard for the material, all of them obvious Rapp fans. Ferrell does his best work to date as Corbit, pulling back from the outrageousness of Old School and Anchorman, and Ed Harris solidifies that no matter what the movie, he is always welcome. Deschanel wobbles a bit in her role because she is given the task of carrying the film, being alone with brief interludes from Madigan for the first 20 or 30 minutes of the film. Sheís a strong actress (see: Almost Famous, All the Real Girls) but she hasnít had the experience yet to carry a show. Rappís film suffers mainly from the fact that thereís little action on the characters' parts to fix their lives and that all the conflict is very dull and never really reaches a natural climax (the arguable climax can be seen coming a mile away). Winter Passing gets by solely on the fact that thereís enthusiasm in it, but that enthusiasm never reaches out to embrace the audience.