In this beautiful film, John Sayles is at his most compassionate and subtle. The premise is simple: a soap opera star on her way to getting her legs waxed, is side-swiped by a taxi and loses the use of the lower half of her body. While that is where the film begins, the story centers on the main characters’ new life in rural Louisiana and her relationship with her nurse, amidst heat and Zydeco music. Mary McDonnell (Dances with Wolves) plays the morose and obstinate May Alice, as she returns home and refuses to deal with the new challenges her life presents. Alfre Woodard plays Chantel, a recovering drug addict and former nurse who desperately needs to make this job work.
One of the remarkable things about Passion Fish is it is not a film about disability; it is a film about codependent relationships, personal demons, acceptance and compassion. In some ways this film reminds me of one of my favorite filmmakers, Mike Leigh, in its slow style and a reluctance to show anyone as a “bad guy”. But there is something quintessentially American about this story, as almost all Sayles films are. May Alice and Chantel’s struggles are with a failed life of excess and urbanity. What they face now is how to negotiate a new kind of life—a more authentic one.
David Strathairn (Good Night & Good Luck) also appears as Rennie, in a wonderful performance as a down-to-earth Cajun.
Check out the trailer: