Movie: Passion Fish
Nominations: Best Actress - Mary McDonnell, Best Original Screenplay - John Sayles
Wins/Snubs: Emma Thompson won for Howard's End, which I would now put behind McDonnell's performance, which is also behind Catherine Deneuve in Indochine, but that's just me. The Crying Game won for Original Screenplay.
Passion Fish is about May Alice (McDonnell) who has awakened in a hospital a paraplegic. We find out later she was in a random taxi crash. She was a famous soap star (think Susan Lucci) and we see the bitch she's become taking on some of her character. She has no interest in actually rehabilitating and learning to use her body in a different way. She goes back to the Louisiana home she grew up in, accompanied by a nurse, who doesn't last long. A quick succession of nurses follow (all with more problems than assistance). All May Alice wants to do is watch TV and drink. Finally, the agency sends Chantell (Alfre Woodard) who has a few secrets of her own but is finally a match for May Alice. Eventually, though many different ups and downs, they settle into a life together. We get to find out Chantell's secret's and her own struggles too.
This movie could easily have been a Hallmark special, or barely watchable, but the writing is sparse rather than sappy and the acting is strong and rarely over the top. We see May Alice struggle, mostly physically to find her life forward. They don't resort to the montage of her getting into shape or Chantell learning to cook. There are so many ways it could have fallen into cliche and somehow it doesn't. If the Academy had been recognizing more than 5 films, I'm sure this would have made the top 10. I vaguely remembering seeing this in high school, and I'm happy to say it has aged remarkably well. Avoiding stereotypes and cliche does keep its originality particularly fresh. David Strathairn has a supporting role as a high school classmate of May Alice - the bad boy everyone had a crush on.
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