Hitching A Ride With The Bissonnettes

Hitching A Ride With The Bissonnettes

Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Axiom Films 

Release date: April 1st 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 82 minutes

Year of production: 2009
Country of origin: Canada

Writer and director: Matt Bissonnette
Composer: Mac McCaughan

Cast: Adam Scott, Joel Bissonnette, Vitta Quinn, Robin Tunney

It’s Michael’s birthday, he is 37. Tobey has not remembered, he just knows his car is broken and needs a ride. Michael postpones his seemingly romantic birthday plans to drive Tobey around LA County as he searches for the “one reason” he has to keep on living.

Though only a year apart in age, the brothers couldn’t be more different. Tobey, a recovering drug addict, “shakes the hand of life”, whilst Michael, an emotionally-guarded novelist, “shakes his head at life”, “hides in a room and writes about it”. The tension and conflict between the two is three dimensional, and totally believable, where family ties are more important than the irritations of doing your brother a favour and getting nothing in return.

The Passenger Side

As the somewhat estranged brothers drive around from the Valley, to Long Beach, to the desert, they encounter various lowlifes and layabouts, from a gas station attendant to enjoys interfering with dogs, to the cast and crew of a porn film, to a weird old lady who lives in the desert and feeds them pie, all holding up mirrors for Michael and Tobey to see themselves in. Passenger Side serves up a slice of life, filled with real human character, hot with emotion. By facing up to each other, Michael and Tobey have to deal with their own lives and the failures within them.

Scott and Bissonnette deliver nuanced performances and dialogue peppered with deadpan humour. The observations are sly and together, they make up a realistic and totally believable duo.

The Passenger Side

What follows is a slow-burning road trip, one that goes around in circles, much like their lives. It’s the journey that’s important here, not the destination, especially when you don’t know what the destination is. This goes for the characters as well as the audience, enjoying the scenery and seeing where this trip will take them.

Passenger Side is a film that values dialogue over action, but definitely not at the detriment of the film. Bursting with wit and maxims, “I asked you once if your beer glass was half full or half empty. You said you didn’t like beer”. Even the petty sibling squabbles are delivered with humour and sensitivity, “You think you’re better than me because you can speak Spanish”, “You think you’re better than me because you can tell what I’m thinking”.

The Passenger Side

LA county through Bissonette’s lens is beautifully shot. With lingering shots of the Joshua trees against the desert and the huge blue sky, to Long Beach, to the suburbs. Even the interior of Michael’s car looked like somewhere I wanted to be.

And no review of Passenger Side would be complete without a mention of the soundtrack. Though it’s kind of at odds with it’s contemporary LA setting, it’s achingly cool and fits completely, both thematically and characteristically. Michael has a tape deck in his car, and still watches a black and white television, and the soundtrack encapsulates a man still living in his past, but also provides something timeless. Featuring tracks from Silver Jews, Leonard Cohen, Mountain Goats, Smog, Dinosaur Jr. and Camper Van Beethoven, it evokes the past without wallowing in it. Curated by Mac McCaughan, it provides something textural, palpable, adding more than just background noise. Passenger Side takes it’s name and title track from Wilco, a gnarled Jeff Tweedy crooning about living life off the edge.

The culmination of the day’s events, or lack thereof, is unexpected and the ennui of the day and of life sits low in the air.


  • Commentary with Matt Bissonnette, Adam Scott and Joel Bissonnette,
  • Making Passenger Side (9:16)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:11)
  • Mac + Jim from Superchunk and Portastatic: Live at the Royal (25:46)

Passenger Side is a meandering, enjoyable ride, both sensitive and realistic. It’s a talker, but a highly recommendable one.

The special features aren’t too shabby either. Accompanying the stock commentary and theatrical trailer is a nine minute ‘making of’, and a short film from after a Toronto screening featuring Mac and Jim from Superchunk and Portastatic.

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