So the story goes like this: two brothers with polar oppositeish personalities drive the length and breadth of LA looking for a long, lost girlfriend. And that’s pretty much the gist. The two brothers, Michael (Adam Scott) and Tobey (Joel Bissonnette – brother of writer / director Matthew Bissonnette), are both floundering in their own way and have their respective issues and hang-ups about their, obviously tempestuous, relationship. There is something of a twist at the end of the film but besides this the premise is a pretty straight forward one and certainly one of this picture’s big strengths is its simplicity. It’s kind of like Phone Booth in a car, only without the over-reliance on split-screen technology. And without the constant over-hamming from Sutherland.
This film offers up a pretty brave narrative, particularly in an industry seemingly obsessed with 3D, special effects and any other available gimmick it can put its money-greedy hands on. Passenger Side harks back to the days of Clerks and Empire Records (Robin Tunney even takes a small part) with it’s day-in-the-life-of story-telling and the whole thing plays out a little bit like a love letter to LA. Whether or not LA is deserving of a love letter is a little bit under question as it is a place, unlike New York or Paris or London, without a heart and I mean that in both a literal and figurative sense. There is no centre, no focal point and although in many ways this is appropriate and reflects the emotional status of the characters it also leaves the audiene on some level wondering how much there is to like about these people and this city they’re presumably so attached to.
Although a little bit self-conscious in it’s delivery, there is a little bit of a sense that the characters are aware they’re being watched, the film has a glorious undercurrent of dry, witty humour. The quick quips that rally back and forth between our two, rather hapless, protagonists are likely to have cinemagoers laughing out loud and there are also a couple of highly watchable moments involving a transexual hooker and a crazy desert lady…there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. The overall effect is one of light comedy that makes it impossible not to chuckle along, or at the very least smile wryly.
Writer and director Matthew Bissonnette shows a great deal of potential with his third feature film. Marrying some beautifully desolate shots of the LA surroundings with an achingly cool soundtrack, he directs with compotence and has written something truly alternative and unique. That in itself is a triumph in so homogenous a trade. There is a little bit of a feeling that the Bissonnette cake is not quite baked but to have reached this level of engagement with an audience after only three pictures is an accomplishment and it leaves me looking forward to whatever project he nexts puts his hand to. Maybe something else featuring the crazy desert lady? One can only hope.
Passenger Side is in cinemas 1st April 2011.
Director: Matt Bissonnette
Stars:Adam Scott, Joel Bissonnette and Richard Medina
Runtime: 85 min