The Backseat is the latest indie dramedy about a high school couple’s ups-and-downs, and not much else. Here we’ll see Roy (Chris Bellant), a sexually inexperienced young teen/punk musician that’s dating – or attempting to date – the much more experienced Samantha (Allyson Riley) in this largely unconvincing, unrealistic meandering autobiographical tale from writer/director Ryan O’Leary.
Boy-meets-girl indie dramedies are a dime a dozen these days. Ever since Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer – a film I very much enjoyed for its inventiveness and style – just about every indie director seems to think they have a unique take on the classic love story. And guess what? Love/heartbreak stories are pretty perfunctory and seldom enjoyable, with very little to say on the subject that hasn’t already been addressed by film, pop culture, and/or personal experience.
In film school one of the many lessons in Screenwriting 101 that’s hammered in with totalitarian might was to avoid the boy-meets-girl tale: it’s overused, cliched, and no one wants to see your story of love and heartbreak on the big screen. So we were told. And with that sobering reality I quickly abandoned my dream of drafting the great heartbreak script and never looked back. I’ve met non-screenwriters who dream of writing that one magical script about their recent breakup as their one and only masterpiece. Unless your script is the next (500) Days, your unwritten masterpiece probably makes for dull and uninteresting melodrama.
Nevertheless, The Backseat goes there with a script that, for all intents and purposes, aims at a verisimilitude of teenage dialect full of expletives, homophobic slurs, and sexist remarks. Fine, but if you’re aiming for any type of realism these moments should at least be mildly interesting or engaging. Or at least attempt to follow through visually with a cinéma vérité look to match and come off as gritty instead of obnoxious and crude.
Ironic, that a story of punk teens is so neat and tame like the softer and cleaner pop-punk that Roy discredits. The film lacks any sort of hard edge – and what it actually considers edgy is merely teenage gibberish about sex and girls.
Roy’s got a busy life, between balancing duties in his band, Witness My Jehovah (yes, that’s its name), with best friend and bassist Larry (Craig Kelly) and their newfound drummer – and sex machine – Mike Peterson (Costa Nicholas). He’s also juggling school, awkwardness and humiliation, hemorrhoids, and a curious pubescent sexuality. It’s actually while at the doctor’s to treat his hemorrhoids that he meets Sam, and somehow amidst a clinic and hemorrhoids sparks start flying.
In what I can only assume is Roy’s first relationship, this spells trouble for his commitment to his band. As they prepare to play their first live gig they must collectively sell fifty tickets, but Roy is too distracted by his muse to fully commit to the task. The film covers a significant amount of ground jumping from one problem to another, whether its Roy trying to convince his parents he is straight, bickering with his mates, or awaiting anxiously for Sam to text back.
Not helping is that none of the actors look nowhere near the ages they’re portraying. Or seem to be any good. Allyson Riley, who plays Sam, plays her role in a hasty manner, rushing her lines with an intense predisposition as if the actress had an audition elsewhere in a place she’d rather be. I never believed for a moment that this was a high school or these actors were teenagers; they seem to have a lot of freedom and very little adult supervision.
Ultimately, The Backseat fails at accomplishing anything or teaching any real lessons. Roy never really grows, although the ending (spoiler alert) gives the false impression that he has, leaving him as immature and ignorant as ever. What’s worse is that the film lacks a trajectory to keep audiences interested or even engaged, feeling uninspired by the paradigm of romance. The ride is a long and bumpy one with no seatbelts to keep you restrained, forcing you to toss around with unpleasantness throughout.