Passion Fish (1992)   1 comment

Two Friends in a Boat

All images are screen captures I took via PowerDVD.



Mary McDonnell as May-Alice Culhane

Alfre Woodard as Chantelle

David Straitharn as Rennie

Directed by John Sayles

2 hours, 15 minutes long

Rated R


A really good movie is a great joy.  Passion Fish is such a film, one, true to my standard method in these movie review posts, I will not summarize plot point by plot point.  My goal, rather, is to interest people enough to watch it.

May-Alice, Waking Up Paralyzed

May-Alice Culhane was a successful soap opera actress.  One day, however, she was stepping out of a New York City taxi cab when another cab hit her, paralyzing her below the waist.  It was a freak accident.  Now May-Alice is embittered, screaming curse words at the television set in her hospital room.

Her acting career over, May-Alice returns to Louisiana, her home state, where she has an old family house located near a bayou.  There she feels sorry for herself, drinks too much, and drives away nurse after nurse.  Her reputation at the agency is as a “bitch on wheels.”


Then Chantelle, who is at least as damaged and vulnerable as May-Alice, comes along.  Chantelle needs this job. She has even lied on a job application, hiding the fact that, until a month previously, she had a daily cocaine habit.  She is clean now, but she has to resist the urge to use the drug every day.  It is hard, but she succeeds.  And so Chantelle is the perfect person to confront May-Alice, who drowns her sorrows with alcohol.

Chantelle has other issues, too, but I leave them to you, O reader, to discover by watching the movie.

These two women help each other heal emotionally and find second chances.  And Chantelle, through her tough love, helps May-Alice physically.


Also helping May-Alice is Rennie, whom she knew as a child.  Rennie, a carpenter, builds a ramp for the old family house.  He also knows how to repair boat engines and takes May-Alice and Chantelle out for trips on the bayou.  He is the apostate, relatively speaking, in his family.  His wife and children are fun-damn-mentalists who won’t watch television or listen to the radio, and who sing only religious songs.  (Zydeco is the Devil’s music, they think.)  They pray for him a lot, he says.  He is a good and kind man, as his actions prove.

Ti-Marie and Precious

There are also some light moments.  For example, Ti-Marie and Precious, who knew May-Alice in school, visit, much to May-Alice’s irritation.  These are the most annoying and over-the-top people in the movie. They are also racists, for they complain about the perceived changes in attitudes (no longer subservient) among local African Americans since the Civil Rights Movement.  When not making racist comments, they reminisce with May-Alice and insult each other’s choice in husbands.

There is also a hilarious scene in which some soap opera actresses visit.  One of these actresses has taken over May-Alice’s role, Scarlet.  Despite the fact that the character had a hysterectomy some years previously, she is now pregnant by a space alien named Zondar, played by May-Alice’s former husband.  That could happen in a soap opera.

Passion Fish is a life-affirming story about discovering that, despite how bad events may seem or be, good can come out of them.  Beyond that, this good may be better than one’s former life.  Mary McDonnell deserved her 1992 nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, losing the Oscar to Emma Thompson, for Howard’s End.



Posted July 2, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Reviews

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  1. Pingback: Passion Fish (1992) « BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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