A low-budget drama with supporting performances by Ed Harris and Will Farrell (two names no one ever thought would be in the same film together), "Winter Passing" stars Zooey Deschanel ("Elf") as Reese, a woman who works as an actress at night and drifts throughout her days, a kitten being the only thing that accompanies her throughout her days.
One night, she's approached by a book editor (Amy Madigan) with an offer: if Reese gets the old letters from her parents (both famed authors) and turns them over, she'll be paid $100,000. Her mother recently passed away, and the thought of going back to visit her father only brings back bad memories. Yet, the lure of a fortune eventually changes her mind and she heads back to Michigan.
Upon arrival, she finds that her reclusive father (Ed Harris) is in bad shape (and a bit of a mess), and is none too pleased to see that he's accompanied in her childhood home by a former student (Amelia Warner) and a rather weird wannabe musician (Will Farrell, bringing a desperately needed touch of lightness, as he's funny even when he's trying to be completely toned down) who works around the house.
Once she arrives there, it's not all that long before she starts learning some new facts about her father, as well as about his new roommates. "Winter Passing" is a minimalist drama, operating largely as a stage for performances. The story is enough to carry things, but if anything sticks with viewers, it'll be the performances, as Deschanel's delicate performance manages to make an unsympathetic character in a depressing movie watchable and engaging.
As for the film's bleak tone, it's one of the ways the picture heads in the wrong direction. There's certainly "somber", but this is one of those films that piles on the chilly, quiet mood to the point where it almost feels forced (although the subdued performances and tone as crisp and dry as a Michigan Winter keep it from turning melodramatic.) Add to that the fact that the story doesn't have all that much originality, and the movie unfolds at a pace that feels like considerably more than its 98 minutes.
Director Adam Rapp does certainly have an eye for crisp visuals at times, but the film does feel a bit as if it'd make a better play than it does a movie. The performances are good (although no one offers their best effort here, Deschanel does certainly offer a very solid try), but the story seems too slight, too familiar and too overly somber. Fans of the actors who are in the mood for something rather heavy should consider it as a possible rental.
VIDEO: "Winter Passing" is presented by Fox in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame, with each edition housed on opposite sides of the dual-sided disc. As for the anamorphic widescreen presentation, it appeared to present the film as it was intended to look. There's a slight softness to the proceedings and interiors are often rather dimly lit.
Aside from some moments of slight shimmer and a few minor print flaws, the presentation looked clean, as no edge enhancement or pixelation was noticed. Although a few richer colors were occasionally spotted, the picture largely goes with a subdued color palette, which looked fine here, with no smearing or other flaws.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, although a mono soundtrack would have worked fine for the picture, which is entirely dialogue-driven. Audio quality was perfectly fine, as dialogue remained clear (although this is a film with a lot of low-volume chatting, so viewers may want to turn up the volume mildly before the movie begins.)
EXTRAS: A 3 minute promo for the movie and the film's trailer.
Final Thoughts: Although the story remained rather thin and predictable (and I think would have worked better on stage), the performances in "Winter Passing" worked well, especially Deschanel and an enjoyably low-key Farrell. Harris and Warner also offer fine supporting efforts. The DVD offers little in the way of supplemental features, but fine audio/video quality. Fans of the actors in the mood for a drama may want to give it this a try as a rental.
The Film B-