2021 Sundance Review: Passing

Director(s): Rebecca Hall

Writer(s): Rebecca Hall, Nella Larsen

Cast: Ruth Negga, Tessa Thompson, Alexander Skarsgard

Synopsis: “Passing” follows the unexpected reunion of two high school friends, whose renewed acquaintance ignites a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.

The artistic prowess that Rebecca Hall is able to capture in Passing is easily identifiable. The beautiful black and white, and the wonderful shots created were some of the best of Sundance so far. There really was so much to like about this movie when it came to a technical standpoint. Rebecca Hall captures this film in a way that is more like a seasoned vet than a rookie.

The acting in this film is remarkable as well, as Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson both give strong and powerful performances. They each wonderfully captured the roles they were given. Clare (Negga) wanted what ‘Rene (Thompson) had. Except she wasn’t so interested in having a life similar to ‘Rene’s, she just wanted ‘Rene’s life. Her kids, her husband, all of it. Negga plays her character well with charm and force, and Thompson does a fantastic job of trying to not be pushed out of the picture.

This was a concept that should have been incredibly captivating, but the end result just didn’t quite match the level of the rest of the film. It was ambitious of Hall to have this be her first film, but this, rather short, novel just didn’t translate to the screen like it should have. This happens sometimes with first-time writer/directors where either their script will be magnificent and their direction bland or vice versa. Here, Hall was able to provide a very strong debut behind the camera, but when it came to the script, it left me wanting more. It was so close, and I mean so close, to being a good film, but instead, we were left with a middle of the road movie that I didn’t love or hate.

Final: Passing shows that Rebecca Hall has some great artistic chops, but the film lulls along and becomes uninteresting the further into the movie you go. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga both provide fantastic performances, especially Thompson, but nothing they could have done could have saved this movie. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. I do hope Rebecca Hall keeps directing because she does have a great eye behind the camera, just maybe try something less… ambitious.

My Score: C

2021 Sundance Coverage

2021 Film Rankings

Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Edu Grau

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