A scrappy and brash teenage girl named Shelby rides around the city on the bus with seemingly nowhere to go. She’s by herself, but she offers a running commentary on people she knows, stories she’s heard and the other passengers. Most people ignore her at first, except when she plays her music too loud, bothering the other people on the bus.
But when she observes someone’s near brush with mortality, the experience lingers with her, especially as she seems to grapple with her sense of social invisibility.
Directed by Miranda Howard Williams and written by Teresa Burns, this short drama works as a slice-of-life portrait, capturing with great sensitivity, how the lost, lonely and marginalized are often ignored and the great cost of that invisibility.
The more people pretend Shelby’s not there, the more she talks. With such a verbally driven character, the writing is the driving narrative mechanism, full of specificity and details that build character and situation. Structured a bit like a running monologue with an unwilling audience as hostages, we get the sense of an uncertain, difficult and unstable life, judging from the opinions and stories she relays to anyone around her.
Much like Shelby’s dialogue itself, much of the film is observational in quality. The naturalistic direction and camera capture details, people, images and snatches of overheard conversation as they stream past Shelby, matching Shelby’s stream of words. Sometimes there are interesting juxtapositions between Shelby’s dialogue and the images and editing. But one also gets a sense of a world passing by — and Shelby caught up in its torrents and currents, lost to its swirls and rhythm.
Actor Kate Lassman Long deftly captures Shelby’s many layers, from the tough, nervy demeanor to the need for attention that bubbles up as she tries to find a connection with anyone. But as the film winds towards its end, we understand that Shelby’s neediness emerges out of the loneliness that comes from profound aloneness, one where she left to grapple with the big, devastating experiences — and no one to share them with.
“The Backseat” does not spell out Shelby’s backstory, but by the film’s end, we understand more, and see just how alone she is. We’re also saddened by the indifference that Shelby, and others who are suffering face, as people overlook or simply steer clear of them like they aren’t even there. Too often, vulnerable and marginalized people are overlooked by communities. Yet, as Shelby demonstrates, they just want a chance to be heard, to tell their story and even simply to be seen.