What it's about: Sidney Hall [Logan Lerman] is a disaffected high school student who has aspirations of being a great, serious writer. Years later, he has achieved that dream with a best selling novel that has deeply touched its engaged fan base -- something like Infinite Jest as a multi-week New York Times best-seller. Jumping back-and-forth between these two time periods, high school Sidney feels the relationship spark with new neighbor Melody [Elle Fanning] while successful novelist Sidney deals with the consequences of his controversial art. In a third timeline, an investigator [Kyle Chandler] searches across the country for a vagabond Sidney who has been burning every copy of Suburban Tragedy he can find.
I mentioned in my thoughts on The Clapper that I enjoyed seeing these early year home video dumps to see what may have gone wrong. For The Clapper, it was pretty obvious, but The Vanishing of Sidney Hall seems to have had bigger aspirations. The sophomore film by Shawn Christensen [Before I Disappear] it stars Logan Lerman, Elle Fanning, Michelle Monaghan, Kyle Chandler, Nathan Lane, Blake Jenner, Tim Blake Nelson, Alex Karpovsky, and Margaret Qualley. Its theatrical distribution was handled by A24, which I'd say has built a pretty good track record.
If making a very pretentious movie was a comment on the very pretentious character at the center of the story, then ... OK. Wouldn't have been worth it anyway but I doubt that was the goal.
The Vanishing of Sidney Hall is the brand of forgotten misfire that takes itself far too seriously. The tone is morose while trying to be profound. In fairness to the film, this is a particularly difficult line to tow and I imagine that it may be some level of profound for certain viewers. But if it doesn't connect, it is exactly the kind of film that will feel like a laundry list of cliches and eye-roll-inducing moments.
When impressionable young people are inspired to commit violent acts because of the content of Sidney's book, the film reaches for this theme rather clumsily. The thematic ground opens with a press conference where Sidney's publisher brazenly remarks that the tragedy is leading to higher sales -- it takes what is usually the subtext and makes it so incredibly on-the-nose for character development.
When Fanning's character is asked for a list of her inspirations she responds with Annie Leibovitz, Bob Dylan, old Atari video games, among others. Coming from what is supposed to be a middle school girl [maybe early high school, it isn't clear] that is about all you need to know about the film's worldview.
Stylistically, the criss-crossing between three different time periods works enough, though it doesn't lead to much. Re-arranging the scenes in my mind as it went along I could only think of how incredibly dull the story would be otherwise. This isn't a good excuse for the flashy structural choice.
Logan Lerman has made an early career on disaffected young men that are intellectually smart but emotionally a little stunted. He's already done it pretty well twice with Perks of Being a Wallflower and Indignation. He's an actor I generally like but I hope he grows up soon.