First Steve Coogan, in Tristram Shandy, and now Zooey Deschanel offer a cappella renditions of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" on-screen this season, perhaps signaling a celluloid renaissance of aqueous Scottish melancholy. Otherwise, Winter Passing is chiefly notable for reuniting musically inclined Elf sweethearts Deschanel and Will Ferrell, whose department store bathroom duet on "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was definitive until The Power of Nightmares permanently recontextualized the tune. Adam Rapp's first feature casts Deschanel as Reese, a sullen and possibly disturbed East Village actress wandering in a druggy fog of bad sex, self-harm, and forever-February malaise. After she's approached by a book editor (Amy Madigan) who's keen to publish the letters between Reese's novelist parents, Reese travels to her hometown in Michigan, where her reclusive widower father (Ed Harris, outdoing even his ham-tastic turn in The Hours) has set up camp with his English ex-student (Amelia Warner) and a childlike handyman (Ferrell) as his informal staff. The film is so grindingly predictable that I was writing out a full plot synopsis in my notebook before it was half over, though the thick grains of Terry Stacey's photography and Deschanel's understated performance add a little kick to the family-dysfunction paces, and Ferrell's dive-bar rendition of the Eagles' "I Can't Tell You Why" is positively riveting. Winter Passing should have been a musical.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.