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Reese Holden likes random fucking, chain-smoking, coke sniffing, self-mauling, and lots of gazing out of windows. But she might not truly alienate you until she zips her ailing cat into a tote bag and tosses its still-living body into the East River. A struggling New York actress with an unwashed shroud of hair, an afflicted heart, and, yes, a thing for tough-love euthanasia, Reese (Zooey Deschanel) is the droopiest of drawers—which in a way makes her the ideal protagonist for the enervated, underrealized Winter Passing. It’s the film’s rather shaky premise that a book editor (Amy Madigan) will give Reese $100,000 if she tracks down old love letters written by her dad, a legendary novelist/recluse (Ed Harris). Forget the letters, though: I would guess that at least 50 grand was spent on Harris’ Gandalfian mane, which is surely more hair than the actor has ever had at his disposal—compensation, maybe, for having so little character to play. Unquiet shades of J.D. Salinger, who has an actor child of his own, cling a bit too tightly to this bourbon-medicated literary hermit, and writer-director Adam Rapp’s script keeps wriggling into the crevice between indie naturalism and Strindberg-esque lyricism. “This house was one big silent museum of suffering,” cries Reese, whose pasty shoulders are bowed by decades of parental neglect. With Deschanel forced to tamp down her natural brightness (even to the point of camouflaging her lovely singing voice) and with Harris mining his tortured-artist vein to depletion, we’re forced to turn for relief to Will Ferrell, the only one here who seems to be having an OK time. As Corbit, a misfit seeking sanctuary in the great writer’s house, Ferrell has the ability to connect every excess to some lonely private wellspring. Easily the movie’s best scene comes when his character performs the Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why” at a local tavern’s open-mic night. It’s a sweet and unforced sequence that captures some of the karaoke spirituality that Bill Murray had in Lost in Translation—the moment when a rich soul is awakened by cheap music.—Louis Bayard