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Passenger Side

It’s often not to be spoken of, but country music really is superb. As a result indie country band Wilco doesn’t get  nearly enough recognition, yet weirdly an obscure track from their debut album, A.M., seems to have somewhat inspired the fourth film by Canadian indie director Matthew Bissonnette. The eponymous track ‘Passenger Side’ shows up during the end credits, it’s subversive undertones and theme of not being in control of your life perfectly suit the style and attitude of this commendably written comedy, in which little plays out, but big ideas can be taken away.

One morning self-assured writer Michael Brown (Adam Scott) gets an unwanted yet inevitable call from his older, scattershot brother Tobey (Joel Bissonnette), requesting a drive around LA to run a few errands. After fessing these tasks to be part of a hopelessly romantic chase the two unknowingly undertake a journey to determine their stations in life, unbeknownst to how far off the tracks they really are.

Whilst the description of Bisonnette as “the thinking man’s Judd Apatow” is admirable its not entirely accurate. The back and forth is similarly banal and indistinguishable from every day conversation, but the raunchy random encounters of the film, despite their irrelevance, serve as it’s defining moments, setting it apart from Knocked Up or Funny People. The actual plot developments can be counted on one hand, the last of which undermines all the prior events, yet the strained niceties of the two brothers and their jibes is the film’s cement block, and aside from one or two visual gags it’s the sole source of comedy.

After adhering to his predictable role in Lovely, Still, Adam Scott gets the lead role he deserves. His polite, sarcastic nonchalant response to every occurrence, from a shemale pleasuring her/himself in front of him (the vague, soul piercing observation of ‘fucking crazy desert lady’), to a final revelation that would leave most men broken. Yet it’s not a case of under acting, but intolerance that he can’t be arsed with, and it is above all hilarious.

Joel Bissonnette’s character is much the same, but riddled with absurd notions he cannot even begin to place in a logical perspective. His discussions of attitudes towards the apocalypse or his seemingly misguided romantic affixation that coaxed his brother into the local road trip in the first place are in one sense goofy, but in another an exercise of freedom from responsibility. He ultimately becomes more than a drug taking free loader, though not in the sense he imagines.

Otherwise natable is the location and quality of filming. The documentary-like filmed long takes of Californian highways and deserts from the passenger seat of the car naturally adhere to the genuine approach and theme, but also serve as the film’s biggest demerit. Without spoiling much, all that the main character has to show by the end is a new dog, not the big self-realisation or shake-up the endless conversations imply.

Passenger Side’s funniest moments are subtle and its stance as an intelligent comedy is its greatest asset. That, and its brilliant soundtrack featuring the aforementioned Wilco plus songs from Smog, Superchunk, Silver Jews and Squirrel Bait, which give it truly exceptional quality as an independent comedy.

Director: Matthew Bissonnette
Distributor: Axiom Films
Released: 9 May 2011 on DVD

Words > Graham Ashton

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