Bob Hoskins shepherds his zany family through the funeral of his father in PASSED AWAY, a Disney farce that replaces Dean Jones and hammy animals with peppery verbal humor and select "adult situations" before settling into an orgy of sitcom cliches.
Undergoing a midlife crisis, Johnny Scanlan (Hoskins) is thinking of trading in his tree-trimming business for a fishing boat and a life on the seas when his father Jack (Jack Warden) suddenly drops dead after "recovering" from open-heart surgery. Planning the funeral and burial, Johnny quickly
finds himself overwhelmed, not only with organizing the old-fashioned Irish wake insisted upon by his mother, Mary (Maureen Stapleton), but also with the abundant life crises of the rest of his idiosyncratic family.
His handsome but dumb-as-dirt brother Frank (William Petersen), an aspiring union leader trying to follow in his father's footsteps, is being forced from his post by a vaguely Mafia-ish rival. Adding to Frank's woes are a shrewish, social-climbing wife (Debra Rush), a son who wears earrings and a
very pregnant, unmarried daughter (Teri Polo). Rebellious sister Terry (Pamela Reed) ran away from home to marry star dancer-choreographer Boyd Pinter (Tim Curry) without knowing he was gay. Having long since divorced him, Terry still can't bring herself to arrive at the funeral without her ex in
tow, which creates problems when Terry becomes attracted to funeral-home embalmer Peter Syracusa (Peter Riegert).
Sister Nora (Frances McDormand), a "liberation theologian" nun who's been working with the poor in El Salvador, shows up with her own man in tow, an illegal immigrant who's being hotly pursued by INS agents. Meanwhile, Johnny also finds himself considering leaving his wife Amy (Blair Brown), who
opposes Johnny's fishy career change, to pursue the sexy, mysterious lady, Cassie Slocombe (Nancy Travis), who appears at the funeral without explanation and whom everybody assumes was Jack's mistress.
Like BLAME IT ON RIO (an earlier screenplay co-written with Larry Gelbart by Charlie Peters, who debuts here as a writer-director), PASSED AWAY promises more in risque outrageousness than it actually delivers. Like a number of recent Disney comedies, it also tries to drop in something for everyone
while bending over backwards not to offend anyone, which prevents it from ever developing much of a personality.
After establishing the Scanlans as a clan of blustery, hard-drinking Irish Catholics, the film gradually downplays both their Irishness and their drinking as it goes on. The only drunkenness seen in the film is from the priest presiding over the funeral (who hilariously horrifies mourners with a
screeching rendition of Cole Porter's "You're the Tops" during the wake). PASSED AWAY takes a slam at liberal politics by having family members refer to the brainless Frank as "the Kennedy of the family" (in part an inside joke: Petersen's most prominent TV role to date has been as family
patriarch Joe in "The Kennedys of Massachusetts). The film also alludes to labor-union corruption in Frank's sketchy subplot. On the other hand, it generally endorses Nora's leftist activities on behalf of Salvadoran dissidents.
Terry's mid-wake liaison with Syracusa is one of the film's funniest comic set-pieces. However, Johnny never gets too far with Slocombe, whose relationship with Jack is revealed to have been not only absolutely pure, but something straight out of a 1930s' melodrama. Jack's own lifelong reputation
as a womanizer is finally revealed to have been largely mythical, growing out of a single one-night stand many years earlier. Boyd's homosexuality is more talked-about than seen and dispensed with entirely when the character leaves the action long before the film is over. Johnny reconciles with
Amy and even Rachel reunites with her boyfriend in time for the delivery of their baby--in the middle of Jack's funeral. Surveying the scene, Johnny decides, like THE WIZARD OF OZ's Dorothy, that there's more than enough adventure in his own backyard, leading him to abandon his plans for his new
Despite its studied inoffensiveness PASSED AWAY doesn't feel as hollow and strained as many recent Disney comedies. Though often overwritten, Peters's dialogue is also often howlingly funny and given sharp, smart readings by one of the strongest casts assembled for a studio comedy in recent
memory. Virtually everybody here has been seen to better advantage in much better films, but there's not a throwaway performance in the bunch, with Petersen and McDormand (BLOOD SIMPLE, DARKMAN) especially showing a revelatory flair for poker-faced comedy.
Altogether, PASSED AWAY bodes well for the updated Disney formula of bringing fringe talent into the mainstream at bargain prices and is evidence that it may lead to good films in the future. As a viewer at a preview screening quipped, "It's not RULES OF THE GAME." True, but it ain't OSCAR,
either. (Adult situations, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Bob Hoskins shepherds his zany family through the funeral of his father in PASSED AWAY, a Disney farce that replaces Dean Jones and hammy animals with peppery verbal humor and select "adult situations" before settling into an orgy of sitcom cliches. Under… (more)