Sunday, April 18, 2010
Passenger Side -- My favorite of the films we saw at the 2010 Wisconsin Film Festival
Passenger Side turned out to be my favorite of the six films we saw at the 2010 Wisconsin Film Festival. Here's Festival Director Meg Hamel explaining how she happened to pick this Canadian film shot in LA at last year's Toronto Film Festival. She evokes what it's like in the industry screenings and why she likes to also see a few films in the public screenings with regular people. This was one of them, and she was glad she did. (Sorry about the crappy video, but this clip is really about the audio -- though I like the way her hands move while she talks.)
Passenger Side is a buddy road movie, in which the buddies are brothers with conflicted feelings about each other, and the road consists of a single day's drive around LA and its environs in a battered green 1975 BMW. Michael (Adam Scott) is a published but apparently obscure novelist, while his brother Tobey (Joel Bissonette, brother of writer/director Matthew Bissonette) is a recovering addict who hits Michael up for some heavy-duty chauffeuring on what he forgets is his brother's birthday. Michael is suspicious of the mysterious errands Tobey has to run and the people they encounter. Both brothers love the other and can't stand the other's approach to life -- their ambivalent sibling rivalry drives the deadpan ironic dialogue that is one of the film's pleasures.
Another is the film's sense of movement, both visually and musically. Mac McCaughan, singer/guitarist of Superchunk and cofounder of Merge Records, served as musical consultant and helped select the indie rock tracks that help propel the film forward (including the title track by Wilco). There's also a great scene looking out the window toward the ocean on the drive to Long Beach, seeing nothing but waves and an oil drilling platform, while Leonard Cohen sings "Suzanne" and the transplanted Canadian brothers talk about the Stanley Cup.
But the movie is not all about music and talk. There is a plot that leads to a (perhaps somewhat pat) surprise ending, but one for which the audience has been prepared by hints dropped here and there. You could say it's an amiable, witty shaggy dog story of a movie, and in fact, one of the brothers does end up with a shaggy dog.