Movie Review: Passing (2021)

We’re all passing for something or other, aren’t we?

-Irene Redfield-

There are not major spoilers in this review!

It’s More Complicated Than Black and White

Passing was made due to Rebecca Hall writing, directing, and producing this movie about living during the 1920s (as you quickly realize due to the fashion styles of the characters) as a black woman. There’s a clear difference between the two women as one makes herself to be white in order to forget her past and the other embraces her blackness to an extent. There’s still differences of opinion when it comes to parenting between Irene Redfield and her husband who is a doctor. I commend this kind of story being told in a movie as it is an adaptation from a book written by Nella Larsen (too bad she wasn’t given the proper due while she was still alive). I wish Alexander Skarsgård as John Bellew had a little more screen time. The relationship between Ruth Negga as Clare Bellew and Tessa Thompson as Irene Redfield was decent enough. The foursome is rounded out with André Holland playing Brian Redfield. The movie is PG-13 and is one hour and 38 minutes long.

Friendship Doesn’t Last Forever

Irene and Clare used to be childhood friends that drifted apart. One stayed in Harlem. The other left and started a new life with a new identity and white husband. When Clare sees Irene, her longing for connection to her “old life” comes back. She presses to rekindle her relationship and despite the friction between them, Irene accepts her back into her life. As they spend more time together, even inviting Clare into her home, Irene realizes how lonely Clare’s life has been despite being married to a rich man. Mixed into all of this is the different parenting styles of Irene and Brian to their two sons and the fact Brian wants to move away from Harlem. What is clear between the women as they spend time together is they are jealous of each other’s lives but also do not want to give up the parts that make their lives easier. The movie began as a chance encounter between the two women and ended as a missed opportunity for everyone involved.

Watch the Trailer

My Final Take on Passing

Passing is a good representation of what it means to be a light skinned black woman in any major city in the United States. In a way it had a traditional Hollywood ending, but in another way it’s also a realistic ending to a four way relationship with one husband being partially removed and the other being highly removed. It has to be painful to know who you are, but not feel that worthy about yourself or strong enough to take the criticism that you have to hide the truth. I think it would have made more of an impact had there been a little more coverage of the feelings behind and leading up to Clare’s decision at the end. The way Negga portrayed Clare made me wonder if she had attraction toward Irene beyond friendship. I’m not sure if this is what Hall was going for, but I kept getting hints of this. Maybe Clare’s flirtatious behavior was a way to keep Irene from ending their relationship. While keeping some things open ended is good, I would have preferred an ending more definitive but that’s just me.

I rate Passing THREE FINGERS at 80%.

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