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Friday, March 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Winter Passing": A season of discontent — and disconnect

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review2 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Winter Passing," with Ed Harris, Zooey Deschanel, Will Ferrell, Amelia Warner, Amy Madigan. Written and directed by Adam Rapp. 98 minutes. Rated R for language, some drug use and sexuality. Uptown.

Zooey Deschanel has a confidence rare among young actors: She doesn't disappear into roles but makes the role disappear into her. With her flat, deadpan voice and startlingly bright blue eyes, she's a vivid presence, not so much for her energy as for her deliberate lack of energy.

In Adam Rapp's "Winter Passing," she plays actress Reese Holden, daughter of famed novelist Don Holden (Ed Harris). And while Deschanel's always intriguing to watch (and can be charming in supporting roles, such as "Elf" and "Almost Famous"), the film suffers by having her at its center.

You can't ever connect to Reese, because Reese, as played by Deschanel, simply isn't there. This makes sense for the character — she's built walls around herself — but not so much for the audience, who may have trouble seeing through those walls.

When we meet the character, she's working Off-Broadway and is miserable: Reese lives alone in a cheerless, chilly apartment, with a kitten that has leukemia, and is coping with the news that her writer mother, from whom she was estranged, has committed suicide. Offered a large sum of money from a literary agent (Amy Madigan) eager to acquire her parents' love letters, Reese travels back home to a gray Michigan winter in search of her father. She finds him living in alcoholic squalor with a makeshift family, and in reconnecting with him must come to terms with her own past.

It's a familiar coming-of-age story, and Rapp, a stage director, doesn't bring much that's fresh to the formula. Harris has a few electric moments as the father, who slurps down bourbon as if it's Coke, and Will Ferrell turns up in a strange supporting performance as one of Don's roommates. It's not really a comedic performance but is full of odd embellishments: the creations of a director, or the noodling of a bored comedian?

Overall, there's a sort of sad, droopy quirkiness to the proceedings and a feeling that even these characters know where the story is going.

"Winter Passing" passes before our eyes without giving us a reason to care about it. Finally the sun comes out, but it's too late — the ever-remote Reese has faded away, like the snow.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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