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Passing Strange (2009)


Average Rating: 7.9/10
Reviews Counted: 25
Fresh: 25
Rotten: 0

Critics Consensus: Spike Lee's document of the Tony Award-winning musical Passing Strange is every bit as compelling onscreen as it was on stage.

Average Rating: 8.2/10
Reviews Counted: 11
Fresh: 11
Rotten: 0

Critics Consensus: Spike Lee's document of the Tony Award-winning musical Passing Strange is every bit as compelling onscreen as it was on stage.


Average Rating: 4.2/5
User Ratings: 650


Movie Info

In this astounding and explosive documentary, Spike Lee captures the eponymous Broadway musical show written by singer/songwriter Stew. The resulting work unites revelatory theater with superb filmmaking, raising the whole to a dizzyingly plateau of emotional engagement. The story (developed at the Sundance Theatre Lab) concerns the uneasy relationship of a young black man (called simply Youth in the show's credits) with his life. Raised somewhere south of Interstate 10 in Los Angeles, our hero, … More

Documentary , Television , Musical & Performing Arts
Directed By:
In Theaters:
Jan 12, 2010


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Critic Reviews for Passing Strange

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (11) | Fresh (25) | Rotten (0) | DVD (2)

Lee doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to filming live theater, but he moves the camera artfully and edits with an energy that matches the music. And he makes good use of close-ups, capturing the sweaty faces of a troupe of remarkable performers.

Full Review… | October 2, 2009
AV Club
Top Critic

You'll probably have to resist the urge to stand up and cheer with the onscreen audience during the emotional curtain call.

Full Review… | August 21, 2009
New York Daily News
Top Critic

Spike Lee's Passing Strange: The Movie is basically canned musical theater, but this is one Tony-winning Broadway show that's well worth preserving and seeing.

Full Review… | August 21, 2009
New York Post
Top Critic

The invigorating result, zestily edited by Lee's own inside iron man, Barry Brown, is in every way a knockout.

Full Review… | August 21, 2009
Rolling Stone
Top Critic

Moving, thrilling and new.

August 21, 2009
New York Times
Top Critic

I can't single out a performance. This is a superb ensemble, conveying that joy actors feel when hey know they're good in good material.

Full Review… | August 20, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

It's a joyous production; the music is alive and dynamic, the skits are clever and funny and self-effacing and the show crackles with energy...

Full Review… | January 13, 2010

Interesting that one of the best movies of the year is a filming of a play. That's a sad commentary on Hollywood but sufficient reason to see this uplifting and very witty movie.

Full Review… | December 7, 2009

Although more of a stage play than a film this performance has great acting and great music combined with a heart felt message.

Full Review… | September 10, 2009
Monsters and Critics

A rousing, emotional roller coaster that's a must see not just for fans of rock musicals but those with an eye (and an ear) for something unusual - compellingly so.

Full Review… | September 8, 2009
Windy City Times

If you passed up the opportunity to catch this Tony-award winning rock musical during its Broadway run, don't make the same mistake with Spike Lee's vibrant film adaptation.

Full Review… | August 21, 2009
Giant Magazine

Passing Strange adds to Spike Lee's visionary resume and his eye for fresh talent.

Full Review… | August 21, 2009

Tender, sexy , funny, moving and profound, Passing Strange bears comparison not just to the great works of the American musical theatre but to literary landmarks like James Baldwin's Another Country and (especially) Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.

Full Review… | August 21, 2009
Boxoffice Magazine

There's much to admire, like the energy and Swiss-watch timing of the players, though this remains a photographed play and not a movie.

Full Review… | August 20, 2009

Film version of a fresh and spunky Broadway musical about a young black man's quest for self-understanding and creative expression.

Full Review… | August 20, 2009
Spirituality and Practice

a cross between a PBS-style special and a concert movie.

Full Review… | August 20, 2009

A worthy public record of a show most people nationwide didn't get the chance to see.

Full Review… | August 20, 2009
Slant Magazine

If you didn't have a chance to see it on stage, Spike Lee's movie really is the next best thing to being there.

Full Review… | August 19, 2009

Audience Reviews for Passing Strange


Flashy filmed performance of a Broadway stage play. Set in the late 1970s, a young black musician rebels against his church-going, middle-class, South Central roots by traveling the world in an effort to experience something "real" in life. Los Angeles performance artist Stew narrates what is essentially a concert trip through a dizzying number of musical styles that touch upon gospel, punk, blues, jazz, and rock. The ubiquitous score is excellent, but it's surrounded by an incredibly stagy artifice with a noticeable lack of sets, that feels overly avant-garde. We're constantly reminded that this is a filmed play. Even the acting is affected and unnatural. The passion felt by those who were in attendance in that theater is not the same emotion felt as a viewer watching it on a screen. Brilliantly catchy songs include: "Love Like That", "Amsterdam" and "We Just Had Sex".

Mark Hobin

Super Reviewer


Now this was most excellent. Very entertaining musical with great performances and interesting format. Stew is highly entertaining, and Spike Lee does a great job of capturing the live performance vibe with a good blend of camera angles and shots.

Julie B

Super Reviewer


In 1976, a young man(Daniel Breaker) is sleeping in on a Sunday morning in South Central Los Angeles. His mother(Eisa Davis) has other plans for him including church to which she drags him. While there, he has a religious experience but not the one she was hoping for. The message is musical, as the young man falls under the spell of Mr. Franklin(Colman Domingo), the son of the pastor. That leads to him being in a punk rock band with Sherry(Rebecca Naomi Jones) and Terry(Chad Goodridge).

This is a film of the last performance of the musical "Passing Strange" at the Belasco Theatre on July 20, 2008. As such, one could argue its cinematic merits and its Broadway origins and cliches.(So many poseurs, so little time.) But what is undeniable is how entertaining the movie is, mixing genres and types of music freely. What resonated with me the most is something the narrator(Stew, who also wrote the book and co-wrote the music) said while speaking from either a podium(read into whatever symbolism you like) or sitting at a desk in that we make the biggest decisions of our life while we are teenagers, which could involve college, work or to leave home for the first time. Like the young man in the play, I thought it an easy decision but only deceptively so since I had no idea of what kind of person I would turn out to be.

Walter M.

Super Reviewer


Your enjoyment of this film will probably be in some sort of equal proportion to your enjoyment of the show (if you saw it). What is great about Spike Lee's document of a performance of this not-like-anything-else musical is his remarkable eye for where you should be looking, and as he cuts from vantage point to vantage point he is unerring in focusing the work; if the close-ups sometimes rob the larger picture of its glory, they also have the benefit of making the non-linear more explicable... My appreciation of the piece remains a little distanced, but the parts that I love I out and out love. And there were more of those than I remembered, that's for sure.

Jeff Talbott
Jeff Talbott

Super Reviewer

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