Passing is incredibly powerful and a strong directorial debut from Rebecca Hall, though it may lack a certain something within its storyline to reach the highest heights.
Written by Becca Johnson
Set in the 1920's and starring Tessa Thompson (Avengers: Endgame) and Ruth Negga (Ad Astra), Passing is a movie following two childhood friends who become reacquainted. Irene (Thompson) finds her world upended when she realises Clare (Negga) is passing as white.
Passing takes a unique approach when tackling the theme of racism. The movie follows a black woman attempting to pass as white, and explores the implications this has on the individual, their family and their friends. Not even Clare's husband knows she is black, which forces Irene into horrendous situations when she is around him. Irene struggles to come to terms with Clare's decision and becomes unsettled when she starts to become a larger part of her life, leading her into difficult conversations with her children about why black people aren't often accepted. Though Irene is happy with her life and wishes to show Clare that she has everything she wants as a black woman, she also battles with her frequent jealousy towards her.
Rebecca Hall is a talented actress known for her performances in The Prestige, The Night House and Iron Man 3 amongst many others, and she definitely managed to transport her talent behind the camera. The direction on show during Passing is phenomenal, especially considering its her debut. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga always give great performances, yet Hall manages to bring performances out of both of our leads that are close to career best. The side performances were all up to scratch, but it's our two lead stars that shine the brightest.
Passing opts for a subtle and gentle approach in its atmosphere and aesthetics. Putting the movie in monochrome was a perfect stylistic choice, and the elegant cinematography paired with the 4:3 aspect makes for a visually gorgeous watch. One of the movie's standouts is its musical score created by Devonte Hynes (Queen & Slim); its not only utilised well and compliments the scenes its paired with but matches the tone of the movie flawlessly. A lot of the movies power is in its script, with the majority of the runtime being lead by conversations between our lead characters. The script was engaging yet subtle, not attempting to be more melodramatic than it needs to. Hall understands that a movie can be powerful and pack a punch without over the top theatrics.
Unfortunately, though Passing deals with an important subject matter and remains thoughtful in its approach, there's something about it that makes it feel undercooked. There are many loose ends that needed tying up, and the script becomes quite introspective which changes the tone and makes for a less interesting watch. Some of the discussions were quite surface level, and it could've easily kept its nuanced approach but still explored its themes more deeply. Rebecca Hall has shown great promise and the script had the makings of being an excellent one, it merely suffered from being a little underwritten. The ending is also questionable, and will be very divisive for many viewers.
Passing is a movie that will be enjoyed by most, and its Netflix release means its accessible to many. It explores an important subject matter and without a doubt adds something to the conversation. Its full of terrific performances, especially from Thompson and Negga, and its eloquent atmosphere makes it one of the most visually and audibly pleasing entries of the year. Though Rebecca Hall proves she is one to watch behind the camera, Passing unfortunately suffers from being underwritten and slightly underwhelming, with an ending that may not fit the bill.