“Don’t Pass Me By” – A Flickcharter’s Review
Lawrence of Arabia opens with Lawrence’s death because director David Lean felt it was necessary to anchor audiences at the outset of such a lengthy film to where the story was going. (Besides, everyone already knew Lawrence was dead, so it wasn’t much of a spoiler.) We open here with a similar scene, though the exact details of what is happening, and to whom, is obfuscated. We can’t even make out the faces on the screen. We just know they’re people watching someone possibly dying. Rather than establish an ending point for Don’t Pass Me By, the opening here throws us into the deep end. From there, we’re thrust immediately into what can best be characterized as a frenetic soap opera.
Not quite an outright anthology film, the narrative here is comprised of five threads told in vignettes that cross paths only incidentally. The risk of such a narrative structure is that sometimes we’re given too much information too quickly, or key ideas are squeezed too much by all the foci. Don’t Pass Me By was written by stars/producers Rachel Noll and Katy K. Burton, with nine of their co-stars and producers credited for collaborating on the story. Given that many cooks in the kitchen, Noll and Burton did an admirable job shoring up what could easily have gotten out of hand.
First time director Eric Priestley and editor Billy Orlando must also get their due for the balancing act. Though it took me longer than I would have preferred to make clear to me what the five threads are, and the characters in them, I had no problem following any of them. On the contrary; the underlying problem with Don’t Pass Me By (aside from its intrusive and sometimes clumsy song choices) is that it doesn’t take enough time to do what it wants. Characters are developed through shorthand rather than arc, with too many instances of important plot points delivered through exposition.
The most glaring offense is the death of one character that takes place entirely off-screen between two scene cuts. In fact, death abounds here. Hannah (Noll) is told at the film’s outset that she has stage four cancer. We’re never told what system is affected by the cancer, or how it is that Hannah is able to remain active despite it progressing that far without having been properly diagnosed or treated at all. It’s movie cancer.
Like her doctor (Liz Wicker), Hannah’s parents are both deceased, having died when she was eleven years old. As with her cancer, though, don’t go asking for anything more. There’s no commentary at all about who raised her after that or how it affected her, or how she can come up with the money to up and go to Paris on such short notice. We’re meant to simply accept that she’s all alone now and not dwell on such details, apparently. Actress Danielle’s (Burton) mother is at home in Indiana, having an unnamed but apparently important surgery. Again, don’t ask what’s going on; just know it’s “surgery” and that’s bad.
Despite these flaws, there’s actually enough to appreciate about Don’t Pass Me By to keep it engaging. For one thing, it’s beautifully shot by directors of photography David Bacon and Ryan Chapman. Every shot is framed clearly and lit gorgeously. Nothing sinks a first-time production like shoddy cinematography, and this is one department where Don’t Pass Me By excels. Bacon and Chapman have been around awhile longer than most of the rest of the cast and crew, and their experience certainly benefited the production. Handheld cameras can often be distracting, with photographers trying to do too much to draw attention to their work; Bacon and Chapman take a much lighter approach here that allows us to be involved with the characters without the camera intruding.
The cast is solid, particularly Rachel Noll, who has the richest scene in the film, revealing her diagnosis to her new suitor Josh (charming Sean Stone, representin’ us dudes with hairy chests, who have grown sick of seeing every actor waxed), and Elizabeth Izzo as the pregnant substance user Brooke. The chemistry between all the on-screen couples is perfect, and it’s easy to like everyone enough to root for them. That’s paramount for a film like this.
The film also features appearances from Keith David, C. Thomas Howell, and Jake Busey. Their presences help legitimize the film, and they also generate a nice “Hey!” moment of recognition for the viewer.
Don’t Pass Me By betrays that it’s a first-time work by its key cast and crew, and may test the patience of viewers who crave nuance, grit, and the slow burn of old school character development. For viewers who dig melodrama and its tropes, though, it’s as likable as any I’ve seen in recent years. In my final assessment, Don’t Pass Me By’s greatest success is that it put Rachel Noll, Katy K. Burton, and Elizabeth Izzo on my radar. I look forward to more work from all three.
How Don’t Pass Me By entered my Flickchart
Don’t Pass Me By < Psycho – #1603
Somewhat ironically, I favor earlier Hitchcock films that tend more toward outright melodrama to his more iconic, later works, but I responded strongly enough to Psycho to pick it here. There’s no shame in losing to a film like that, though.
Don’t Pass Me By > Comedian – #1209
Though I normally am fascinated by behind-the-scenes docs like Comedian, I found Orny Adams so irksome that I took little joy from it. Here, I favor the more likable Don’t Pass Me By.
Don’t Pass Me By > Timecode – #1008
This one is a bit tough for me, because I like the ideas of both of these more than I necessarily liked the final products. I tip my hat to Timecode for greater conceptual ambition, but in the end I have to go with Don’t Pass Me By for being easier to get into.
The novelty of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is hard to resist, sure, but it’s pretty much a once-and-done thing for me. I’m more apt to suggest Don’t Pass Me By to some of my friends, and that’s enough for it to win here.
Don’t Pass Me By < Carrie – #907
I’m not the biggest horror fan out there, and in truth I’m not terribly in love with Carrie, but I connected with Betty Buckley’s Miss Collins and her relationship with Sissy Spacek’s Carrie enough that I’m going with it here.
Thematically, I may identify with the “no regrets” idealism of Don’t Pass Me By, but it turns out I’m more the kind of person who wants to see Tom Hanks lose his senses over a home improvement debacle.
I’d actually consider picking Don’t Pass Me By over a few of the other Harry Potter movies, but Chamber of Secrets features Shirley Henderson as Moaning Myrtle and she cracks me up.
For me, this comes down to the chemistry and charm of the cast of Don’t Pass Me By vs. the taut suspense of Phone Booth. It’s harder for me to find a good yarn than it is to find people to like. Phone Booth gets the nod.
Put simply, I was more invested in Bonnie and Clyde, despite already knowing their fate, than I was in Don’t Pass Me By…though I did care about Hannah (Rachel Noll).
If you’re looking for a good “WTF?” movie, Where’s Poppa? merits a viewing. Still, I connected more with some of the characters in Don’t Pass Me By and that’s the kind of connection that wins matches.
Don’t Pass Me By entered my Flickchart at #905/1611.