Since Don Shebib first sent his jobless heroes from Newfoundland to Toronto in 1970’s classic Goin’ Down The Road, Canadian cinema has gravitated to the “road movie.”
Maybe it’s the fact that they’re cheap to produce or that they chart the long spaces between provinces in our country but whether it be the work of Bruce McDonald (Highway 61, Roadkill) or Michael McGowan’s recent One Week, it’s clear that we — and our government — love to make them.
Writer/Director Matthew Bissonette’s Passenger Side is also a Canadian road movie, but with a twist. This one charts a day in the life of two ex-pat Montreal brothers (Step Brothers’ Adam Scott and Joel Bissonette, real life brother to the director) living in L.A. who take to the streets in search of the older sibling’s lost love.
It’s an American existential comedy filtered through a hoser highway lens, meagre in budget but driven by an eclectic selection of pop music that serves to underscore the often melancholy, sometimes hilarious narrative.
“Living in L.A., you drive so much,” says the talented Scott, who also starred in Bissonette’s first film, Who Loves the Sun.
“I have two kids and in the car is the only chance when I really get to listen to music. I think that experience of driving to your own personal soundtrack is essential to understanding Passenger Side. That’s where its soul is.”
Said soundtrack features tunes by bands like Dinosaur Jr., Asexuals, SNFU, Wilco and perhaps most lyrically (and patriotically) the classic Leonard Cohen ballad, Suzanne.
“It’s rare to hear someone use a Cohen song well,” says director Bissonette.
“Here we play the piece over a long shot of a sunny beach with an oil rig in the distance. It’s a simple, somewhat cliché but iconic shot that has this kind of poetry underneath it.”
Though Passenger Side is essentially a two-hander whose tone veers between volatile and playful, one element about the film that works as a kind of punch line to their dialogues is the rather smutty misadventures the two brothers stumble across, including a mishap with a transsexual prostitute and a living room porn shoot.
“We didn’t want this movie to be boring,” Bissonette explains.
“Plus L.A. has this weird aura of sex about it so I really wanted to include these kind of funny sex scenes in the film. It seemed appropriate.”