Passenger Side sidesteps the pitfalls of the indie road movie in style.
The humble road movie: the perennial signifier of escape from the myriad headaches thrown up by social evolution. So far, however, only John Hillcoat's The Road has successfully and eloquently managed to echo the twenty-first-century's ills and the collective fears of its citizens.
On the surface, Passenger Side is just another LA snapshot on four wheels, but scratch deeper and – while it's no Easy Rider – Matt Bissonnette's film unveils itself as a bittersweet valentine to the social decay (apparently) rife in the urban sprawl that is the City of Angels. It's an image we've seen countless times before, but it is one rendered with great poignancy here.
When brothers Michael (Adam Scott) and Tobey (Joel Bissonnette) set out on what seems like a wild goose chase in search of the latter's 'true love', the city's backstreets and outskirts become a platform for all manner of bizarre scenarios, complete with a cavalcade of grotesque caricatures and general lowlifes.
Michael, himself hardly a model individual, has major hang ups about his brother's illicit leisurely pursuits. But blood is an insoluble bond in a city of freaks and strangers, so while their mutual affinity is overshadowed by incessantly rallied quips and comebacks, this is a journey they will share in both the physical and metaphorical sense.
These fleeting encounters keep just the right amount of pressure on the throttle, but more importantly they add clarity to the identities of our two roaming protagonists. Casting his brother as the co-lead suggests that Bisonnette may be drawing autobiographical parallels here, but the writer-director is clearly happy to splash his narrative with personal touches.
And, because no self-respecting road movie would be complete without a dissident indie soundtrack, songs from Silver Jews, Leonard Cohen and The Mountain Goats add an extra shot of personality into the mix. It's cool for the sake of cool, and you can't help but feel some scenes have been tailored to specific tunes, but the overall effect is irresistible.
Bissonnette is somewhat blinkered in the way he advocates Los Angeles' seedy image – John Waters-lite is perhaps not the analogy he would have hoped for, though it's a fair one – but his script, spitting with black humour and anecdotal charm, elevates Passenger Side above the middling indie fare that so often populates festival bills this time of year.
Who isn't a sucker for an LA road movie?
Think 'The Hangover's self-loathing, latte-drinking cousin'.
Bissonnette sidesteps the pitfalls of the indie road movie in some style.