Romy Shiller

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Romy Shiller

In About on May 27, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online

Twitter: RomyShiller

Passenger Side: Or, Brother You Bug Me

In Film, review on May 27, 2011 at 11:18 am

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

Abraham Lincoln

Director:  Matt Bissonnette

Writer:  Matt Bissonnette

Stars: Adam Scott, Joel Bissonnette and Richard Medina

Most critics are on the fence about this film. I am not. To me it was a very good character study set in a slacker road movie context (Drama, Independent, Canadian – 2010). If I were a director I would want Adam Scott to work for me – he is that good.  Audiences seem to love this film and it won various awards at film festivals.


Plot: Two brothers spend the day driving around Los Angeles county looking for the meaning of their lives, or cheap street drugs, depending on who you happen to believe. (


On the morning of his thirty-seventh birthday Michael Brown (Adam Scott) receives a telephone call from his estranged brother Tobey (Joel Bissonnette), which sends the two off on a day-long odyssey across Los Angeles in search of Tobey’s “reason for living.” ( Or, his ex-girlfriend played by Robin Tunney.  Their pit-stops are very interesting but it is their banter which captures the imagination. The dialog is exquisite.


Michael is an over-educated, of questionable-employment-status, writer. “There surely can’t be much mileage left in over-educated, underemployed slackers staring into an abyss of disappointment… That said, this low-fi slacker road movie is funnier and more intelligent than there are any grounds to hope for: an entertaining, wry tour of LA’s scuzzier sights.” (


The dialog between the bothers, Michael and Tobey, is extremely entertaining and very revealing. If for most of the film you have a shot of two heads talking, what they are saying better be good. Matt Bissonnette says, “I think that comes from growing up in Montreal, because that is how everyone talks and behaves back home. I’m always kind of surprised when people remark on it, and sort of think, well, isn’t everyone like that … but apparently they aren’t. (Well, that would explain my sensibility – I live in Montreal)


Regarding tone, that’s all down to casting, and so far I’ve been very lucky to have worked with people who really understand the material.” (


The acting – holy challenging! They do leave the car, but rarely. They manage to convey with their face, mannerisms and tone exactly how they feel. The wonderful thing about film as opposed to the stage, for example, is that the camera can pick up nuance and very small detail. I personally think that this film is an excellent example of capturing the ‘small’.


NOW Magazine says “Passenger Side does have a homemade quality. Shot on video and largely set inside a car, it follows two brothers who drive around the Los Angeles area for a day. The result is an awfully intimate little story made by people who clearly like and understand one another’s rhythms.”  I think that the tone of the film is influenced by the close quarters. Also, they’ve all worked together so there is a comfort level, a familiarity of expectation:  “I think we all kind of share a sensibility,” Matthew says, “and we’ve all worked together – I’ve done a film with Joel and a film with Adam. They know what to expect from me, and I know what to expect from them. That makes it so much easier.” (
Matt Bissonnette’s first two films were Looking for Leonard and Who Loves the Sun – shot in Canada. Passenger Side was his first US production. There were no notable differences doing a film in the US as opposed to Canada.

Matt Bissonnette says, “Well I wrote the two leads with Joel and Adam in mind, as I’ve known them both for a long while, and I knew they wouldn’t say no, which simplifies things.” (


Joel and Matt are brothers. In an interesting exchange in the film, Michael tells Tobey that one of the characters in his book is based on his brother but made more dramatic. Autobiographical reference? Joel says, “I would say yeah, but not in such a delineated way. Just more in the quality of who they are and the way they talk. There’s a real familiarity to me in the characters and to he and I, but the story and the events and the particulars of it not so much” .Matt says, “I think it’s much easier to make up stories than characters and I think you borrow more from people you know in terms of their tone and personality and stuff like that.” (


The film, even though it had a low budget, has a great soundtrack including Camper Van Beethoven, Wilco, Leonard Cohen and others. Basically Matt asked the bands if he could use them in the film and gave them very little money “…like the guys from Camper Van Beethoven, I was a huge fan but we didn’t know them, so we just called them up and said “these bands are doing it, here is the pittance money” and they actually though it was a joke. They thought we were joking around and then they were like “Really? People are doing this?” and they said “Ok man, sure.” (


A review says, “The thought occurs that this is almost a hoser version of Easy Rider — except Michael and Tobey aren’t in search of America, they’re trying to keep from being swallowed whole by it.” (–passenger-side-beer-and-loafing-in-l-a) This is a small film and it is very good


on Twitter they commented on my review: ‘thanks so much for the kind words! glad you enjoyed the film.’