Grab Your Disequilibria and Buckle Up

One of the soundtrack pieces, “My Life Is A Freak Show,” could very well have been chosen to be the anthem for Backseat.

Josh Alexander, who wrote and stars in Backseat, intended to create a movie that would pay homage to the underserved demographic of Generation X—those born in the wake of the Baby Boomers who grew up in a time of drugs, divorce, and economic strain. Wikipedia calls these people an “unsung generation” and Alexander characterizes them as prone to “prolonged adolescence or late coming-of-age.” Josh Alexander is true to his definition of his purpose and does a fine job of drawing the film viewer into the world of Colton (Alexander) and Ben, played by Rob Bogue.

The two are best friends who decide to take a road trip to Montreal, Canada, for the purpose of meeting Donald Sutherland—who frequently dines at a restaurant where Ben’s cousin is maître d’. Colton idolizes Sutherland because as a young boy he adopted him as a father figure when his own father proved less than nurturing.

Aubrey Dollar as ShelleBen borrows a car from an uncle to make the trip possible and the boys are off, driving north from New York City in search of adventure along the way. Unbeknownst to Ben, Colton has brought along a half kilo of cocaine that he has promised to deliver for a friend of a friend of a friend. It soon becomes apparent that Ben and Colton have conflicting ideas on what this trip is about. Colton is looking to party hardy, finding female companionship wherever and however he can, and Ben is mourning the end of a relationship and wants time to think about where he is going in life. As their wills repeatedly clash and they then resolve their differences, a picture of deepest friendship is formed.

Backseat is truly an independent labor of love. It has taken Josh Alexander three years to come to this exclusive limited engagement screening with Landmark Theatres. The film is shot using a hand-held camera, which enhances the sense of disequilibria that both young men experience in their daily lives. The color is grainy and drab—almost black and white, which seems to echo the dullness and sense of futility permeating Colton’s and Ben’s lives. The boys literally live as they go without real purpose or goals—waiting to see what will appear around the next corner, and then dealing with it. The choppiness and purposely “poor” quality of the camera work apes the lives of the characters.

Director Bruce Van Dusen has a keen eye for using backgrounds in the context of the action and dialogue encompassed by the camera lens. One great example of this is when Ben and his girlfriend, Shelle, are walking along a street arguing about how Ben is an existential dilettante who is not really eager to be different or even willing to take a stand independent from societal norms. Just as he is looking confused and Shelle is berating him, his head is haloed by a sign on the wall behind him that says “Thinking.” It’s perfect, because the audience is also thinking, “what is going on here?”

While touted as a comedy, Backseat is really an enigma. It seems rude and judgmental to laugh at people so flawed that they cannot even decide who they want to be at 32. I found myself unable to laugh at people who I am so culturally far away from even though I am as close as the generation just before theirs. I felt like a burst of laughter would be like throwing rocks at a disabled person.

The main theme of this film is that Colton and Ben have allowed themselves to take a backseat to life. They each represent what seem to be the two possible options for their generation—Colton’s live-laugh-love philosophy and Ben’s determination to find a use for the education that he has received but that has not provided an income or lifestyle within which he can find happiness.

Backseat is not a film that you love, or maybe even like. It is, however, a film that makes you think and stop to look outside of your own narrow universe.

The MPAA has not rated Backseat, but I would rate it R. The shooting style is definitely predominantly documentary in tone; there is a good deal of foul and sexual language, and lots of flesh is exposed.

Courtesy of a regional publicist, Kathy attended a press screening of Backseat.