Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Passenger Side" review

                Many of you have probably never heard of an actor that goes by the name of Adam Scott.  Despite that, many of you have probably seen him on the Starz show “Party Down” or the movies “Step Brothers” or “Leap Year”.  He has had bit parts here and there in dozens of movies and shows and somehow remains under the radar.  I thoroughly believe that needs to stop.  Adam Scott is a talented actor that deserves a big break.  (Personally, I can’t wait for him to join the cast of “Parks and Recreation” for a recurring role.)
                I suppose you are wondering as to why I am gushing about this Adam Scott guy.  That is an easy question to answer for you.  I recently saw him in two excellent independent movies.  One of them, named “The Vicious Kind”, I was able to view on Netflix instant streaming.  The other was shown at the Wisconsin Film Festival and it goes by the name of “Passenger Side”.  Scott played two vastly different characters in the two movies, but it presented an opportunity for me to see the range that the guy has going for him.    I highly recommend that you go ahead and rent “The Vicious Kind” when you get the chance.  It is worth your time.  However, “Passenger Side” is not on DVD yet and still could get a wide release in theaters.  Regardless of that, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on this darling little indie gem.
                “Passenger Side” has Adam Scott playing Michael, a small time writer living in Los Angeles.  The movie opens on Michael’s birthday when he gets a call from his brother, Tobey (Joel Bissonnette), who needs Michael to give him a ride around town to complete some errands.  Michael is skeptical and initially refuses to help his brother, most likely because Tobey is a recovering drug addict.  With hesitation, Michael agrees to help his brother out.  This sets the story in motion.
                In a nutshell, “Passenger Side” is a road trip movie where the protagonists come across a cast of odd characters and engage in unpredictable acts of happenstance.  The interesting thing is that although it is a road trip movie, it all takes place with the immediate confines of Los Angeles.  Being from Wisconsin, I found it incredibly fascinating to see the different parts of the west coast’s biggest city.  Some of the people that the brothers come across would seem to be ripped right out of reality, whereas others are too good to be true.  Either way, they are amusing and exist for more than just laughs.  Every circumstance that Michael and Tobey come across allows them to display a little bit of their personal character.  It is character driven story telling that packs a punch.
                A few important things are learned early on in the movie.  Tobey starts off with no idea that it is Michael’s birthday.  He also tries to convince Michael that he has joined the church of scientology.  On top of that, Tobey does not disclose to Michael what in the world he is doing on the errands.  This last one creates a building conflict which has a payoff that propels the plot to the next level.
                If I had to describe “Passenger Side” as a comedy or drama I would tell you that is a perfect mating of the two genres.  When the movie wants to be funny, it has you laughing your ass off.  When things get serious, you start to feel for the characters.  Essentially, you are along on the road trip with Michael and Tobey, experiencing the highs and lows as they do.  The writer/director, Matt Bissonnette, does a fantastic job putting together the scenes inside the car so that they don’t feel claustrophobic.  A good portion of the movie does take place in the car, but it does not stop the movie from going somewhere.
                Adam Scott is just excellent in this movie.  He carries with him a knack for great comedic timing and the ability to display emotions with just minor changes in his facial expression.  It is real easy to relate to his character, which may very well have been the goal of the filmmakers.   There is one particular scene in the first third of the movie where Scott just shines.  I would tell you more, but I would totally ruin it for you.  All I can say is that Michael comes across quite a character and his reaction to her is worth the price of admission.  You’ll know what I am talking about when you see it.
                “Passenger Side” was not necessarily the funniest movie I saw at the Wisconsin Film Festival, but it was the most sound with narrative.  It knows what story it wants to tell and who its characters are.  That is something most big budget blockbusters could only hope to accomplish (I am looking at you “Transformers” movies).  Watch out for this one.  When it comes your way in any form, you need to see it.

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