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Brothers of the Road Bear a Heavy Load

Passenger Side (2009)

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

With “Passenger Side,” writer-director Matt Bissonnette has managed to produce a picture that boasts not only a screenplay that is nowhere near as witty or sharp as he thinks it is, but also lacks a single discernible likable character. It’s a road movie of sorts, but it meanders rather than drives towards its (not overly surprising) conclusion utilizing a series of claustrophobic car rides as a metaphor for the protagonist’s emotional journeys.

Michael (an overly sarcastic Adam Scott) takes a phone call from A.W.O.L. junkie brother Tobey (Joel Bissonnette) and is somehow convinced into driving him around for the remainder of the day. Effectively a two-hander, Michael and Tobey take to a rather beautiful 1975 BMW and drive around metropolitan Los Angeles on a series of mysterious errands. Along the way they encounter random caricatures of L.A. oddballs (a snooping neighbor and a randy transsexual amongst others), but essentially “Passenger Side” is about the relationship between the two very different (or are they?) brothers. Frustratingly, Mr. Bissonnette’s banter-fueled screenplay irritates rather than elates, with Michael coming off as a particularly loathsome and sullen pessimist.

As their rather plodding and aimless journey progresses, it transpires that Tobey is searching for his true love Theresa (Robin Tunney) rather than running the drug errands Michael suspects. Yet it’s difficult to really care about the purpose of their journey, which awkwardly introduces — and hurriedly discards — annoying supporting characters (Kimberly Huie as Laurie particularly grates) and drifts from one anonymous location to the next. Predictably, the brothers bond over the course of their odyssey — Tobey is a soppy romantic at heart; and while Michael might be hardened, he makes more than one sacrifice (some bigger than others) for his little brother before the day is out.

Mr. Bissonnette evidently has a cinematic eye, shooting some atmospheric washed-out shots of a bustling Los Angeles from the point of view of the BMW. But it’s his screenplay that really niggles throughout; it’s neither smart enough nor engaging enough, and a movie such as “Passenger Side” effectively lives or dies by its script. This leaves the delectable BMW and the inspired mixtape-esque soundtrack as the stand outs in what is ultimately a forgettable ride.


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