Passenger Side

Passenger Side


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Early on the morning of his 37th birthday, saturnine novelist Michael Brown (Adam Scott) gets a call from his estranged brother Tobey (Joel Bissonnette), and reluctantly agrees to ferry him around LA in his beat-up 1975 BMW. At first, Tobey, a recovering junkie and eternal optimist, tells Michael that he needs to attend some "job interviews", but as their cross-town errands lead to a series of bizarre low-life characters, Michael starts to wonder where their joint quest is really taking them and if he will ever be able to get back to the lover whose answering machine he keeps furtively calling.

With their meandering narratives that can take any number of detours between A and B, road movies are an indie staple, enabling films to coast – and more importantly talk – their way through life's twists, turns, bumps and grinds, without ever having to break the budget. And coast is what Matt Bissonnette's Passenger Side does, as these two brothers (one played by the director's own brother) drift from one stop to the next, along the way having episodic oddball encounters with, among others, a tranny whore, an eight-fingered Mexican, a crazy desert lady, a 'neocon hooker alcoholic', a pornshoot DP and a 'racist' mechanic.

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Still, despite the seeming aimlessness of the Brown brothers' disgruntled odyssey, their journey's end is, in fact, clear to both of them long before it is to us, while in the meantime we get to see this odd couple's contrasting attitudes to what the world has to offer. This gaping difference between Michael and Tobey is crucial, because while we might suppose that we are watching yet another movie about the romance of the open road (and that is certainly the way that one of the characters views both the day and life in general), we are also witnessing a slow-motion crash and burn.

It is all a question of perspective, and Bissonette handles the gradually shifting points of view with such deftness and subtlety that many viewers may find themselves genuinely wrong-footed not so much by the 'facts' as by the tone of the film's ending, even if it is absolutely, unquestionably right for the characters. If genre demands that this sort of story should finish in fraternal reconciliation and a never-ending horizon of happiness, Bissonnette prefers to brake and reverse – and the result, though surprising, feels all the more true to life.

If ultimately Passenger Side is a bitter pill to swallow, it is sweetened by the amiably bantering central performances, the hilariously caustic (and entirely credible) wit of the script, and by the perfect selection of songs on Michael's retro mix tape, as the likes of Dinosaur Jr, Leonard Cohen and Wilco accompany the pair's forward momentum while also taking them (and us) way back. After all, even as some journeys change everything, others get you nowhere.

Reviewed on: 07 Oct 2009
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When a man gets a call from his estranged addicted brother on the morning of his birthday it leads to an odyssey through the LA suburbs.
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Director: Matt Bissonnette

Writer: Matt Bissonnette

Starring: Adam Scott, Joel Bissonnette, Robin Tunney, Gale Harold, Greg Dulli, Rachael Santhon, Kimberley Huie

Year: 2009

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Canada


London 2009

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