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WINTER PASSING, 2005
The estranged daughter of a successful novelist decides to visit her father at her childhood home to look for missing letters between him and her mother before her death. During her discovery of his secluded getaway, she acquaints herself with misfit companions, copes with the seclusion from and separation of father and daughter, and struggles to find meaning amongst the distance between her and the family she loathed as a child.
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Movies about novelists tend to create eccentric or oddball settings for characters to thrive in. Something about the novelist implies a person who is a bit detached from society, a bit strange in front of people, and possibly an outstanding artist in their craft. It’s a common characterization for novelists in films, though it hardly ever gets noticed or criticized, mainly because that tends to be the personality of some of the most famous writers to walk the earth.
J.D. Salinger springs to mind immediately, especially with Ed Harris’ character, Don Holdin. The name alone blatantly refers to a certain famous character in a universally praised book. Ironically enough, J.D. Salinger dislikes greatly when works about his own work gets publically distributed, but for the benefit of this movie, it’s a nice thought to know that he was at least partly an inspiration for the creation of the film.
The film begins with Reese Holdin (Zooey Deschanel) who lives in New York City—bartender by trade, but up-and-coming theatre actress by night. It’s right here that this film catches my eye. Deschanel only needs ten minutes of screentime before she starts stealing the show, at least in my opinion. Something about her adorableness contrasts greatly with the tone of the film, and it’s interesting to see how she performs in such a different setting than her previous Hitchhiker’s Guide or even recently in (500) Days of Summer. Seeing her in a role that is not particularly cheery or uplifting is a daunting thing, but by the time she is into a few pages of dialogue, she settles in quite well.
While the beginning parts of the story begin to unfold, and Reese ultimately decides to return to her childhood home and inquire about these letters, the visuals of the movie are allowed to thrive. The start of this film is slow, quiet, and almost sorrowful. A particular scene involving a lakeshore and a kitten hidden inside the bag brings a lot of weight to the story. After her kitten is diagnosed with feline leukemia, Reese sees the only sensible solution is to prevent her cat’s misery and end her life out of love and pity. As the cat drifts away, we start thinking about how serious this film can get. The film is seen in dark colours, still & quiet shots, and a calming atmosphere—surprising for a setting such as New York City.
When Reese travels to Michigan to meet her father, this atmosphere is transferred quite well to the isolation of the countryside. The light snowfall, the airy quality of environment, and the mellow acoustic soundtrack throughout the movie help it along as a light film with dark tones, at least until it gets to the last act. Until then however, many of this film’s qualities lie in Deschanel’s performance, the atmosphere the film provides, and the intriguing plot development that stays ambiguous until Reese’s confrontation with her father.
Reese is greeted at the door of her childhood home with a familiar face in movies—maybe not this particular genre—but he dominates the screens and is most likely what will attract any audiences this otherwise indie film may get. Will Ferrell plays Corbit, a similarly odd man who is formally the rhythm guitarist for a Christian rock band. He is accompanied by Shelly, one of Holdin’s former students, and a survivor of endometriosis, but not without the removal of her ovaries. Reese is initially bitter towards them all, including her father, during her first few nights at the Holdin residence.
Ferrell’s performance is clearly defined as comic relief, but not in the ‘Ferrell’ kind of way. His character is shy, quiet, and reserved; much like this film’s setting. Shelly, played by Amelia Warner, is a rather shallow character compared to the others, and this may upset some audience members, but the other performances take away from how irrelevant Shelly’s character appears to be written in. Not to bash Warner, who seems to take in the role rather well, and her performance is decent enough to help carry the film. Harris does not attempt to bask in his character’s sorrow, and though this isn’t a good thing for such a depressed character like Don Holdin, Harris does his best not to overact and risk ruining the themes these characters must address.
I personally blame the writing of the film for descending into clichéd-ness, which really spoils the great first half. Character development in a movie with few characters is essential in proving a film’s worth. Shelly’s supporting role does its job; probably not the best one, but certainly bearable. Farrell plays Corbit with enough conviction to cause laughs when they are needed, and Harris’ playing of a broken, old writer offers fine support. It truly relies on Deschanel to carry this film forward, and though she seemed to be on the right track, it seems certain shortcomings in this film’s writing or directing may have caused a straying off the path. Adam Rapp does a decent job as a first-time director, and Deschanel’s transition into a more serious role is not without praise, but for another drama about a small group of family-like characters and their struggles together, there has to be something more to have a lasting effect on an audience.