John Sayles’ movies are just a treat for an intelligent viewer- thoughtful, multi-dimensional, and well-developed (you go through a journey with the characters). The respected (yet not widely-known) writer/director doesn’t do any tricks with the camera, choosing instead to let the focus be on his characters. In Passion Fish, Sayles (a masculine feminist, in my opinion) unfolds the story of two very complicated, stubborn women. You need to be patient when you watch this type of picture, as things unfold in at a slower pace than in typical modern Hollywood movies.
Mary-Alice Culhane (Mary McDonnell) is a soap opera actress living in NYC when a freak accident results in her paralysis from the waist down. She decides to move back to her old childhood home in the Louisiana bayou, drink heavily (wine is her favorite), watch TV, and torment several female caregivers who come to work for her. They quickly leave the job, of course. Mostly, Mary-Alice wallows in self-pity, feeling that her life is over.
Finally, a determined young African-American nurse from Chicago, Chantelle (Alfre Woodard), comes to work for the diva. We learn eventually that she desperately needs this job, as well as a place to live.
Don’t worry, this film has a few men, too. When Mary-Alice’s old car breaks down, Chantelle meets (and gets hit on) by a charming, fun-loving cowboy nicknamed Sugar (Vondie Curtis- Hall). At the gas station, she meets another local, quiet and handy Rennie (David Strathairn). It turns out that he and Mary-Alice knew each other since childhood. Rennie offers to come work on the old Culhane house, so she can get around with the wheelchair.
Watch for a few other characters (and surprises they bring). Angela Bassett has a few nice scenes as Mary-Alice’s best friend and former co-star.