Rent it now: Adam Rapp’s debut film, ‘Winter Passing’

Adam Rapp is one of the most talented and prolific young playwrights in New York City. Each year seems to bring us one or two new productions of his tough-minded and funny scripts.

Next month, Rapp will be unveiling a new site specific play in a room at the Gershwin Hotel — “Hotel/Motel” — with only 20 audience members at each performance. He is sharing the bill with another terrific New York writer Derek Ahonen.

Because it received only cursory distribution, few people know about “Winter Passing,” the first — and so far only — film by Rapp (above left, with Zooey Deschanel).

In 2005, he pulled together enough financing to make an auspicious film debut, but “Winter Passing” received virtually no theatrical distribution. Because of my admiration for Rapp’s theater work, I made a point to see the movie during the first week of its New York premiere engagement and was shocked to find myself in a nearly empty theater.

Rapp tells a fascinating story reminiscent of the life of J.D. Salinger after he became a notorious recluse. In the movie, Ed Harris plays a legendary writer who has retreated to a home in New England where he lives with a loyal assistant (Will Ferrell) whose main job is to keep people away from his boss.

Meanwhile, in New York, the writer’s daughter (Zooey Deschanel) is struggling to make ends meet as an aspiring artist. She has been more or less estranged from her dad for many years.

An editor from a major publishing house (the wonderful and too little seen Amy Madigan) tracks the young woman down and offers her a considerable amount of money for the correspondence between the writer and the girl’s dead mother.

The daughter resists at first, but then decides to see if she can find the letters and get her financial house in order.

Rapp tells a tricky family story with great care and insight and shows himself to be a wonderful director of actors. What on paper might appear to be an odd lot of performers thrown together by chance becomes a very tight ensemble (Ferrell gives a strong performance that proves he could cross over from comedy to drama any time he chooses).

“Winter Passing” deserves a second life.

Joe Meyers