When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
PASSING STRANGE (2009)
Categories: Media Beat

I was talking with a teller at my bank where I was withdrawing money to go on a getaway.  “Where to?” she asked.  “San Francisco.”  “Oh!” she replied, “Something very interesting happened to me in San Francisco.  I was on a subway train that made an unexpected stop, and then it started moving backwards.”  I waited to hear about the ‘something interesting’ but then I realized I just did.  That was it.  Similarly, PASSING STRANGE is an autobiography of someone who doesn’t have much to say about his life.  When a film spends the first hour dramatizing a teenager choosing not to go to church with his Mom and moving out after graduation, you know the narrative is in trouble.

The film is a live video performance of the Broadway show by and about real-life musician ‘Stew’ who grew up in L.A. and developed his musical talent while living as an expat in Europe.  It tells of his adolescence in the suburbs and his desire for and eventually orchestrated escape from his perceived limitations of middle-class life.  Even though he geographically escaped, the movie proved his mindset and talents were still firmly anchored in bourgeois banality.  The characters’ stakes were minimal, the situations complacent, the humor hamfisted.  The show he built was just as tidy, precious and bland as the two-story suburban house he contemptuously described and so achingly wanted to leave.  I mean, even BILLY ELLIOTT had more setbacks, challenges and triumphs than Stew.

I have to confess that I didn’t hang around for the end.  I walked.  The story and performances were cocooned in layers of the protagonist’s music.  It was the music that pushed me to the exit sign:  a middle-of-the-road RENT-type pastiche of melodies that neither rocked the house nor lay a groove.  The whole experience was about as edgy as a Fabergé egg.

Doug / PoMo Joan

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1 Comment to “PASSING STRANGE (2009)”

  1. Roscoe says:

    You’re being far too generous in your review of that half-baked batch of coming on age cliches known as PASSING STRANGE. I had the bad luck to sit through the show on Broadway, where Stew’s ceaseless underlining of every single plot point that any sentient third-grader could understand was incredibly irritating.

    Thanks for the kind words about my blog. I’ll post a link to yours.

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