The strange thing about Passion Play is that everything that went into the making of the movie is more interesting that it turned out to be. After being screened for the first time, it received terrible reviews. Director Mitch Glazer, in response to these criticisms, said that the film was largely unfinished, and that by the time the proper theatrical version was complete, it would be a lot better. It’s just too bad it never got a true theatrical release, and in the few theaters it did open up in, the masses didn’t flock.
He also somehow managed to get Bill Murray, Mickey Rourke, Rhys Ifans and Megan Fox involved in his project. I’ve heard rumors that he’s been trying to get Passion Play worked on for upwards of twenty years, and if that’s true, the result isn’t particularly inspiring. Granted, I never saw the edition that screen at film festivals, but if it really has been improved by a “generation,” then the unfinished copy must have been just terrible, because the (presumably) final cut of Passion Play is passable at best.
Rourke is our lead, playing a down-on-his-luck trumpet player named Nate. After being dragged out into the desert and almost being killed (he’s saved by some random guys dressed in white and holding guns who we never see again), he stumbles upon a carnival show. He’s looking for a telephone, but quickly forgets about that after he notices a woman with wings on her back. He stalks her to her trailer, where we find out her name is Lily (Fox), and that he wings are not just accessories — they’re real.
This proves to be a bad discovery, as the owner of the carnival (Ifans) almost kills Nate because he believes that Nate will be unable to keep the wings a secret. Lily saves him, and they drive away in her truck. For whatever reason, despite the fact that the carnival owner was mere second away from killing Nate to keep Lily a secret, he does not chase after the duo. Ifans’ character won’t show up again until much later in the film, and even then, only for one scene.
We’re unsure of what Nate intends to do with this woman. Does he love her? Does he want to use her in order to make profit for himself? It quickly becomes clear as he tries to sell her to the gangster known as “Happy” (Murray). Happy just happens to be the same man who ordered Nate’s death in the opening scene, although Nate doesn’t seem to fear him too much. The way that Nate shows Lily to happy is actually quite clever, considering if he just showed up with the woman beside him, he’d be dead and she’d be taken.
At this point in the film, I was happy enough to see all of the actors making it through without cracking up. A woman with wings? Hilarity! But the film is a serious affair about a “freak” with wings becoming the affection of our two much, much older men. Here’s the thing: Putting CGI wings onto Megan Fox does not make her look like a freak. Especially when, for a lot of the time, the wings are hidden under a coat.
I wish I could just go ahead and spoil the ending, as it explains many of the supposed plot holes of the film. You might have already been able to guess it, and if so, well, that’s what Mr. Glazer gets by not being particularly creative in this department. But I actually liked the ending, and felt like it tied everything together nicely, even if it wasn’t creative in the least. Having one of the main characters have real wings is creative; ending on the note that Passion Play does isn’t.
I’m unsure of how Glazer managed to convince actors like Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray to get involved with this project, but both looked fairly uninterested whenever they are on-screen. Rourke’s character dominates the picture, although he’s more or less playing his character from The Wrestler, except without the depth. Murray seems to stare blankly at whoever he’s talking to, although that detachment actually works quite well for his character.
I know that Megan Fox is kind of the go-to woman whenever someone wants to talk about pretty, yet untalented actresses, but she fits her role here well enough. She even gets a few scenes where she has to show emotion, and she does a good enough job at that. This is the type of role she has to take in order to establish herself as an actor, and while I don’t think anyone’s going to call the performance exceptional, it’s likely better than anything else she’s done up to this point.
Unfortunately, the major downside to Passion Play is that it takes itself so seriously, even at times where we just can’t. If there had been a hint of camp or irony, maybe it would have been more fun. But when the story is just how I laid it out, and everyone completely believes it — even the “woman with wings” part is believed almost instantly by the entire cast — it’s hard to not laugh at just how silly the entire production is. Not necessarily terrible, but silly. That’s what Passion Play ends up being.
Passion Play is bearable, but not necessarily worth your time. There’s a reason it got an incredibly limited theatrical release. It’s too silly to take seriously, even if all of the actors manage to keep a straight face — out of boredom, a lack of interest or other reasons — whenever they’re shown on-camera. I wouldn’t call this a bad film, and there’s some enjoyment to be had, but it’s mostly a worthless flick, especially once the (fitting, in my opinion) ending rolls around.