As independent a film as they come, Canadian filmmaker Matthew
Bissonette makes a picture postcard of Los Angeles showing sights you
have never seen as two brothers become descendants of Philip Marlowe,
as they trek across numerous counties and districts in search of a
girl. In the end, the girl becomes a macguffin that Philip
Marlowe would ordinarily encounter, a necessary end of the plot but the
journey involving the the two distinctly different brothers is the real
Michael (Adam Scott) and Tobay (Joel Bissonette, brother to the
director) are different in that Michael is introvert and cultured,
whilst Tobay is extrovert and direct, and a linguist as once scene with
a Mexican shows. Tobay to paraphrase a saying he uses, shakes
hands with the world, Michael is more likely to shake his head at it.
The film is independent in its freedom of characters movements from
town to town, the utilisation of an old automobile as the vehicle of
choice (indicating nostalgia for past glories, but also the characters
lack of funds to get a good enough car) with an 8 track cassette player
instead of CD player and the music playing is left field and itself
indie coming from artists as diverse and unknown as Leonard Cohen,
D.O.A., Evan Dando and Silverjews. The title of the film comes
from a Wilco song, that the director listened to once, liked and wrote
a screenplay around to incorporate the song.
We first meet Michael, a writer with one novel published and a virtual
cynic at the world that surrounds him. He wishes he could be the
centre of attention, much like his brother Tobay is. Tobay is a
model and actor who has had a cocaine addiction and has now found God
or Scientology, a loose parody on Tom Cruise. Michael picks up
Tobay and they start out for breakfast and the film begins to
incorporate vignettes and scenes involving brief encounters with
strangers on this journey. From an old prostitute transexual
friend of Tobay who decides to masturbate with Michael watching, this
leads to a brilliant pay off line from Michael when it comes down to
payment. The film is not scared to have such characters in its
domain and you get the sense that they are being themeselves and not
reacting any differently because they are interacting with our two main
protagonists; you believe they would act like this with whomever it
Interestingly, the director does choose to balance it evenly between
these unusual encounters with eccentric characters - a vigilant
neighbourhood watch officer, an eccentric old madam in the desert, the
Mexicans - and well written dialogue scenes between the two brothers
when they are alone. Oddly, Tobay keeps calling Michael a coward,
for his unwillingness to pursue life's pleasures. This word is
said several times at the start, it riles Michael and then it is
dropped, and by the film's conclusion and the introduction of the girl
macguffin you understand the weight the word carries for Michael.
One of the best shot scenes, that give it this ethereal quality is when
they are talking about Michael's writing and particularly his first
novel; about two brothers - one an introvert, one an extrovert.
Clearly, fact is meshing with fiction, and then Tobay asks him about
his second novel, Michael admits it is the same sort of story.
Adam Scott, previously seen in Step Brothers and The Aviator, is a good
comedy actor but here his ability to be funny and to act provides a
good rock for the film. The film is about two brothers but it
starts and ends with him, so it is as much about his journey as his
brother's who is the passenger in question. Scott reaches high
level of pathos by journey's end when the realisation comes to light,
and the film ends with an Evan Dando song playing over Michael driving
the lonely streets. The ending to some may be considered cold
considering there has been so much warmth and laughter beforehand
in the films duration, but I feel that is indicative of much
independent cinema in America nowadays, too often the need for happy
endings have to be dismissed, in this day and age. You need only
look at nightly news updates, there are more unhappy endings and bad
news than the good news.
The film is a treat to those who like their independent cinema supplied
with quality dialogue ('I asked you once if your beer glass is half
full or half empty. You said I don't like beer'.), wonderful soundtrack
and excellent cinematography, then this film fits the bill. If
you liked Easier With Practice (which was also distributed by Axiom
Films) you will like this film.
The film is on limited release from Friday 1st April 2011.
Interview with Matthew
Hi Matt, loved the film, the combination of lo-fi with highbrow
dialogue was executed brilliantly.
Thanks, glad you liked it, and thanks for the interest.
What was the gestation of the film? And why has it taken so long
to reach our shores?
I wrote the script a long time ago, in the fall of 2004, but then made
another movie, and became a father, so it took a while to get passenger
side done. As for reaching the white cliffs of Dover, that has to do
with the bottom falling out of the film industry around the same time
we were making passenger side; happily, things seem to be on the
upswing, and the rivers of easy money are once again flowing!
Is this your most complete film?
It’s hard to say, they all seem complete to me, and I suppose that’s a
judgment best left to the person watching the films. That said I have
found each film successively easier to make, which, so far, has been a
Was it easy working with your brother, and is the brotherly
relationship in the film close to your own?
Working with Joel is pretty simple, as he is a committed actor, and
comes to work very well prepared (the same goes for Adam). Regarding
the similarity to our actual relationship, we are both sarcastic jerks
with poor memories, but the rest of the stuff is made-up.
How much care was taken with selecting the soundtrack?
It was always my intention that the music be like air, in that it is
totally familiar and ubiquitous; it’s almost more than a character,
it’s the atmosphere that the characters live in; and so, a lot of care
was taken. I had one or two songs in mind for specific sequences, but
mostly I just knew I wanted to use a certain tune, or band, and that
bit eventually found the right place to live in the film; Matt Hannam
my editor, and Corey Marr, the producer, were also pretty involved in
the music selection; as well, Mac McCaughan, from Superchunk,
Portastic, Merge Records, etc, who scored my first two films, was on as
the music supervisor for this one, and he threw a bunch of numbers into
the mix, so it was all a bit of a Potpourri; that said, the big idea
was to find the exact songs that would have been on the cassette that
was lying on the floor in the car.
The ending (without ruining it) is quite downbeat, was that deliberate
or just indicative of the journey created?
I guess I don’t find it that downbeat, bitter sweet is more the word I
would use, and it was deliberate in the sense that when I was writing
it seemed like exactly the spot where the characters should arrive.