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Passing Strange

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Rousing, devastating, invigorating, painful, joyful, soulful—all those adjectives don’t even begin to describe Passing Strange, but it’s a start. Composer-performer Stew’s gut-busting, heart-wrenching look back at his own journey from callow L.A. youth to world-weary adult was the 2007 Obie-winning, Drama Desk–nabbing Off Broadway sensation that became the 2008 musical event of the Great White Way. And instead of letting the high-wattage production vanish into the ether, a smitten Spike Lee rolled cameras for posterity during the show’s final performances.

His concert film is expertly crafted, but it’s also a little uninspired, as though an overly reverential Lee fretted about bruising such a beautiful bloom. He needn’t have worried: The electric cast is too vivid to be overwhelmed by any cinematic choices. The talent never lags: from Stew’s alter ego (Breaker) and his suffering mother (Davis) to a motley crew of South Central neighbors, hash-hazed Amsterdammers and postpunk Berliners (rousingly animated in multiple roles by Rebecca Naomi Jones, De’Adre Aziza, Colman Domingo and Chad Goodridge).

Maybe someday a film will transpose all the theatrical pantomime of Stew’s biographical memories into something that’s more of a creative collaboration than a commemoration. Until then, Lee’s recorded staging preserves the production’s potent DNA. You want to deal with the real? This will pass for it—with flying colors.

Written by Stephen Garrett

Cast and crew

  • Director:Spike Lee
  • Cast:
    • Stew
    • Daniel Breaker
    • Eisa Davis
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