Passing Strange - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Passing Strange Reviews

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August 24, 2017
Absolutely Brilliant. I adore this play/movie
March 3, 2017
My rule for personal movie ratings is that a five-star rating is reserved for movies I will watch over and over. If someone suggests it, I'm in. If I'm flipping channels, I'll stop. (eg. The Graduate, The Odd Couple, Goodfellas, Silence of the Lambs, etc...)

This movie somehow earned that rating the first time I watched it. Within 20 minutes I thought this would make my "favorites" list and that feeling did not change throughout. I started it over as soon as it finished.

Edit: It's been a few weeks and I just watched this (for the third time) and it was better than I remembered.
½ December 27, 2015
Thank goodness Spike Lee preserved the original run of this show for posterity. One of the great modern musicals, a touchstone for the 2000s in the same way Rent was for the 1990s.
September 14, 2014
I may be bias, but this is probably one of the best Musicals ever to be on Broadway and I'm so happy it's been preserved on film. This movie ain't no passing phase.
July 18, 2014
Stew has a great story to tell and he tells it damn well.
May 31, 2013
The Journey of Self-Discovery Can Be to Anywhere

A point that might be easy to miss when it comes up is when one of the characters in the Amsterdam sequence asks Our Hero (Daniel Breaker) some question that implies that all Americans are alike, and he asks if the character lives in a windmill and wears wooden shoes. The fact is, he spends a certain amount of time trying to cash in on various Europeans' expectations that all black Americans have the same experience. Which does come up again; as the narrator (co-creator Stew) points out, no one in the entire play knows what it's like to hustle dimes on the streets of South Central. (In fact, despite what Wikipedia says, I don't think Our Hero is even [i]from[/i] South Central. I'm pretty sure he's said to live north of I-10, which doesn't go through South Central!) However, because the suburban experience of American blacks isn't as familiar to most of the world, he gets to coast on being thought to have grown up poor and oppressed.

When he is still living at home, his oppression mainly consists of his mother (Eisa Davis) forcing him to go to church with her. He ends up joining the youth choir, because there's a girl he likes (De'Adre Aziza). Only the youth choir doesn't really work for him, and he forms a prog rock band with a different girl (Rebecca Naomi Jones). To be more real, you see. And then, he decides that the way to be real is to move to Europe. First, he goes to Amsterdam, where he meets a group of artists with whom he fits in perfectly. Including a girl (De'Adre Aziza again), of course. Only Amsterdam is too perfect, and he can't create there. So he goes to Berlin, where he falls in with a different group of artists. Including, yes, a girl (Rebecca Naomi Jones again). But no matter where he goes, he is still himself, and he is still pursued by the past, including the person his mother expects him to be whether he is or not.

I don't pretend to know everything about the black experience in America. (I leave that for Spike Lee, who supervised the filming.) However, it seems to me that the Youth's experiences are part of the black experience I know the most about. (That isn't just my own desperate desire to leave LA forever and come back as seldom as possible!) While he seems to have grown up in the city proper, he certainly didn't seem to have grown up in the 'hood. I knew people who went to the kind of church he did. (I didn't; we were Catholic, and our church was multiethnic, not black.) The thing is, though, even when you grow up in what I've taken to referring to as "the outer city," you have a certain amount of experience with the inner city. It's on the local news all the time, and you go through it to get places you're going. And, sometimes, there's enough social mobility so that you know someone who'd lived there. In short, you know enough to pass, should that be convenient.

Heck, when you get far enough away, other people do your passing for you. Given that I'm white and from the suburbs, and given that I moved here in '95, a lot of people I knew assumed that my life was exactly like [i]Clueless[/i], or anyway enough so that it was all they needed to know. It's frustrating, but in some ways, it's also kind of comforting. Our Hero knows that his life wasn't really like a blaxploitation film, but he also knows that he can coast on that belief. He isn't as obsessively political as his German friends, but he can top whatever they have to say by pointing out what "they already know" about the oppression he suffered. (Note that I'm not saying that his life wasn't harder because he was black, just that it wasn't as hard as he made it out to be.) It's easy to hide in it, and that's what the Youth is doing. They don't have to know that he came to Europe to get away from the completely different oppression that is living in a middle-class neighbourhood.

I'm seriously tired of bare-stage musicals, but I don't dislike this one. For one thing, there are musicians. Bare-stage musicals wherein the cast also has to play all the instruments don't work on a variety of levels, but this doesn't have that problem. Most of the cast is playing a variety of characters, but they're all distinct, and that's all the actors have to do. Every once in a while, someone--either the Narrator or the Youth, generally--picks up a guitar, but they are mostly allowed to get on with acting, and picking up of instruments is completely in character. It's not like that production of [i]Company[/i] where someone is supposed to be singing and accompanying themselves on the trumpet at the same time. There is also clever use of lighting to make the distinctions between Amsterdam and Berlin. And, of course, this seems to have been designed as bare-stage from the start, so any tricks to make it work were planned into it. I think that makes quite a difference as well.
½ November 13, 2012
The plot points hit the highlights you'd expect in a coming-of-age story, but the movie's done with such energy and panache that it's impossible to resist.
September 4, 2012
I love this movie/play
September 1, 2012
Greatest. Musical. Ever.
August 5, 2012
Spike Lee shot this live on Broadway in a way that captures the performance that probably rivals seeing this in person. A loose autobiography of the narrator, Stew's, journey as a young musician from LA and his travels throughout Europe, this speaks nothing but wisdom that was won from experience and suffering. Covering topics such as black suburban counterculture, growing older, and commentary on Christianity and the black church, this especially hits home for me. Most importantly this rock musical offers a close up on a tale of self discovery.

All performers are unexpectedly versatile and bring to life a witty and wonderfully written show. I'm happy this won the Tony Award for best book in 2008.

Passing Strange is cooky and fun, but mostly fresh and insanely honest. I didn't have any expectations for this before watching, but I can't help thinking this would have far exceeded them.
½ January 21, 2012
The songwriting alone makes this a great viewing experience.
December 23, 2011
It was so good that it was Awesome
October 30, 2011
I thought this was going to be a movie, turned out to be a filmed live performance of this musical play I had never heard of, Passing Strange.. and what a shame cause I wish I had the chance to see this energetic, heartfelt and beautifully orchestrated performance live for myself. It was very entertaining (even though it's more than 2 hrs), unique, and filled with good music and great performances by everyone on the stage. Highly recommend it to music fans, and if you're in the mood to watch something different yet fun.
August 20, 2011
Passing Strange has by far the most character development of any Spike Lee joint, ever. That may have something to do with the fact that the material wasn't originated by him but rather Stew, and Spike elected to record its performance. But what a performance it is. The musical crackles with exuberant wit, explosively written and performed songs, and an engaging story about a young black man's coming of age in Europe that takes a no-bullshit approach to his struggles for love and acceptance that is both uniquely African American and painfully universal to the sensitive soul. And how could I not love a musical with the lyric,

"Fellini, Truffaut, Passolini, and don't forget Monsieur Godard...can you dig it?"
July 29, 2011
Creative, innovative, and while the music is not the best, the story and acting is FANTASTIC. Daniel Breaker is fabulous as Youth and Stew bring a realm of depth that totally surprised me. This is actually a really great show and an amazing script and coming of age story that explores so many themes, that it could go down as being a highly significant show on Broadway, defying all the traditional terms of the word "musical" on Broadway. Definitely worth checking out. B+
June 9, 2011
I can't believe I missed this on Broadway!!!
½ December 31, 2010
Interesting film of an actual Broadway play...a bit long but good music
Super Reviewer
½ December 21, 2010
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.
October 20, 2010
One of the few perfect musicals ive ever seen. Deeply touching to me as an artist and someone who has always felt music in my bones in trying to find myself and my voice.
October 11, 2010
Love onstage productions. Not totally into the content, but it was well-done.
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