Brotherhood walks on thin ice in Matt Bissonnette's "Passenger Side," an aimless indie production that hands much of its dramatic burden over to stars Adam Scott and Joel Bissonnette. Leisurely, but sporadically pointed, the picture is a conventional journey of estrangement, capturing a fractured relationship on a day-long car ride, where souls are poured out and secrets are revealed. It's nothing ingenious, but those in the mood for a touch of visual poetry to their familial torment might find plenty to enjoy about this modest drama.
Reluctantly agreeing to act as a chauffeur for his deadbeat brother Tobey (Joel Bissonnette), Michael (Adam Scott) prepares himself for a day of deception. A recovering drug addict, Tobey's been struggling with his disease for some time, burning off any sibling goodwill with Michael, though the ex-junkie remains hopeful for future reconciliation. Taking off into the wilds of Los Angeles, interacting with a wide range of urban archetypes, the men trade barbed banter as they try to grow comfortable with each other again, with Michael worried that Tobey's mysterious errand for the day might involve the acquisition of drugs.
The theatrical staging of "Passenger Side" is something that takes time to get used to. A story of two men locked inside of a car attempting to find a peaceful middle ground, the screenplay doesn't burn many calories opening up the drama to fit an overwhelmingly cinematic perspective. The tale is flatly arranged by Bissonnette, who doesn't have the money to shake up the tension, instead electing to spread the conflict around gradually, resting on the back of a bespectacled indie soundtrack to provide a comfy sweater of tunes, scratching that irresistible Sundance itch.
Once settled into the flow of the feature, the filmmaker takes the siblings on a few interesting adventures, most centered on Michael's fussbudget ways as he encounters a masturbating tranny hooker, bleeding day laborers, and a threatening gas station attendant while shuttling his brother around. Scott and Bissonnette are strong in their roles, creating an authentic uneasiness between the pair that's glossed over with heavy applications of sarcasm -- the native tongue for this family. The duo hit a few victorious comic notes, and I appreciated Scott's communication of anxious interior churn, as Michael holds a sickening secret that slowly renders him numb as the day progresses. In a film primarily built around dialogue shared by two actors, Scott and Bissonnette achieve an accurate sense of discomfort and history, making the confessional scenes that arrive in the end all the more sincere.
Audio & Visual:
DVD Talk was only sent a DVD-R screener for review.
While it never lifts off the ground, "Passenger Side" coasts along without much fuss. Ultimately, I enjoyed the film primarily for its unique view of Los Angeles. Instead of an obnoxious industry or violent criminal take on the town, the men drive through the neglected sides of the city, looking out upon a varied, often heavily congested view as they stew in the awkwardness. Bissonnette wisely lets the camera run for lovingly extended takes, lulling the viewer in with a display of drive time harmony and aggravation that mirrors the journey of the two lead characters.