Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Bill Camp, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Alexander Skarsgård, Justus Davis Graham, Ethan Barrett, Ashley Ware Jenkins
Written by: Rebecca Hall, based on a novel by Nella Larsen
Directed by: Rebecca Hall
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, some racial slurs and smoking
Running Time: 98
Date: 10/27/2021

Passing (2021)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Off White

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A truly astonishing, impressively assured writing and directing debut by actor Rebecca Hall (Godzilla vs. Kong, The Night House), Passing is based on a 1929 novel by Nella Larsen. It tells the story of Irene (Tessa Thompson), who is able to "pass" for white while shopping or having tea, etc., but happily returns to her Harlem home with her Black husband (André Holland) and children. One day she runs into an old friend, Clare (Ruth Negga), who is "passing" full-time, with platinum-blonde hair, and even married to a handsome white racist (Alexander Skarsgård). After spending a little time with Irene, Clare begins to hunger for her real self, begins clawing at her carefully-constructed facade, making more and more frequent trips to Harlem. The "waiting for the other shoe to drop" plot is a bit simple, but Hall handles it with incredible honesty and finesse, and it all feels just right. Best of all is the film's look: plain, romantic black-and-white cinematography compressed within an old-fashioned 1:1.33 frame, emulating old movies, but also suggesting the rigidity and constriction of the movie's themes.

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