Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Passion Fish (1992): Rediscovering yourself after tragedy and poor decisions

Title: Passion Fish
Director: John Sayles
Language: English
Rating: R (for language)

I love the unsentimental approach to the characters in this film and the friendship that develops between them. The movie doesn't so much have a happy ending, as it has a hopeful one. The characters have grown. They're stronger, and they've found strength in their relationship with each other.

The dialogue is thoughtful and well-written, and the visuals are beautiful. There's no fake or stale Hollywood feeling in this movie. The characters are real.

Passion Fish.jpg
Passion Fish Poster. Via Wikipedia.

May-Alice (Mary McDonnell) is a soap opera star whose career ends when she gets paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident. She moves back to her old, empty family home in Louisiana, where she intends to waste away gloriously, watching TV, drinking and driving away a succession of nurses. The latest nurse to turn up at the house is Chantelle (Alfre Woodard), whose quiet, self-contained demeanor hides the fact that she's struggling with some serious problems of her own. The two women become friends, renewing their lives by making discoveries about who they can be and by helping each other. Each character has her own story arc; they develop together and independently. They aren't portrayed as types, but as real, complex people.

Both McDonnell and Woodard are wonderful in their roles. There's also a strong cast of supporting characters, including: an outdoorsman, Rennie (David Strathairn), offering awkward, heartfelt offers of companionship; an easy-going womanizer, Sugar LeDoux (Vondie Curtis-Hall), who circles around Chantelle, offering a good time with no pressure, and an understanding of what she needs; and one of May-Alice's soap opera cast members, the elegant Rhonda (Angela Bassett), who visits her with a couple of other actresses. That visit leads to a really funny monologue, where one of the actresses describes the way she gave her all to a tiny movie role, early in her career, where she had only one line and played a woman who had been probed by an alien. (She really researched that character's motivations, and found a dozen different ways to utter her one line about alien probing.)

Both May-Alice and Chantelle give themselves more fully to life as the movie goes by. The alternative is to blot themselves out with alcohol, drugs or hours of TV. They can either try to escape from themselves through self-destruction; or they can live with greater richness and variety of experience, within the constraints of past tragedies and poor choices. The way they open themselves up again to new relationships and experiences is inspiring to watch, particularly because it isn't portrayed in a cloying way.


Naida said...

This sounds like a good one. I like stories about friendship. I think Alfre Woodard is a fantastic actress.

HKatz said...

I haven't seen Alfre Woodard yet in other movies, but she was really good in this one :)

Yvonne@fiction-books said...

Hi Hila,

This film and both its stars, are new names to me. The synopsis however, is very intriguing and I should imagine, emotionally challenging. Watching my own mother live out much of her life in a wheelchair (although through illness, not accident), I can totally relate to the anger and rebellion which May-Alice experiences and the way in which she unleashes her feelings on those closest to her, who only want to help her.

I would have to find a friend to watch this one with, as it definitely isn't something hubbie would watch.

Sounds as though you really enjoyed it.


HKatz said...

"I can totally relate to the anger and rebellion which May-Alice experiences and the way in which she unleashes her feelings on those closest to her, who only want to help her."

Yes, the actress portrays the underlying bitterness and frustration so well. Though one of the differences between your description and the character in the movie is that May-Alice isn't really close to anyone at the start of the movie. (Then as it goes on, she develops both self-sufficiency and meaningful connections with others.)

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I hope you get a chance to watch it.