Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Passion Fish; Drama, USA, 1992; D: John Sayles, S: Mary McDonnell, Alfre Woodard, David Strathairn, Angela Bassett
After a car accident, TV soap opera star May-Alice is left bound to a wheelchair and returns to her hometown in Louisiana where numerous nurses just raise her blood pressure. However, an agency hires a new caregiver for her, Chantalle, who is not shy of stopping her from drinking alcohol and persuading her to exercise. Slowly, they become friends. Likewise, May-Alice meets her old school friend again, Rennie, who constructs a ramp at her home. When the TV producer asks May-Alice to return to the show, she refuses.
Except for maybe two or three moments, intelligent director John Sayles didn't allow this story to turn into a sappy-pathetic melodrama, but a quiet and nuanced little 'slice-of-life' movie, earning him his first Oscar nod in the category of best screenplay. However, capturing that mood of 'slice-of-life' is not that simple, since "Passion Fish" feels generally unexciting and bland, choosing too much episodic vignettes of people visiting the wheelchair bound heroine May-Alice (excellent Mary MacDonnell) that don't feel as if they contribute to anything or go anywhere. The best episodes are humorous ones, like the sequence where May-Alice is "squeezed" by her TV colleagues Precious and Ti-Marie who visit and bore her with gossip, so she secretly writes a note to her nurse Chantalle: "Help! Get me out of here!" or when she enjoys being called "a witch on wheels". "Passion Fish" has good moments and subtle writing, yet with a running time of over 130 minutes it is definitely overstretched and too slow, which reduces the engaging power of this "Driving Miss Daisy" version with young people. A small jewel here is actor David Strathairn as kind handyman Rennie, who brings back memories of Sayles' excellent movie "The Brother from Another Planet".