May 27, 2018
Today’s movie is “The Vanishing of Sidney Hall” (2017), the A24 drama directed by Shawn Christensen and written for the screen in collaboration with Jason Dolan. The film follows Sidney Hall (Logan Lerman), who finds incredible success with his first novel, then disappears, until one man known as The Searcher (Kyle Chandler) decides to investigate what happened.
Movies about novelists are tricky matters, because choice of medium matters when telling a story. It also matters whether the novelist is real or fictional, because how much story you need to tell is directly related to how well known (or unknown) the novelist is. It matters whether you can leverage pop culture or some other part of the zeitgeist, or whether you can presume some basic knowledge about the novelist. And if you are working with a completely fictional novelist, then you need to tell two stories: the story about the novelist and the story that made the novelist a novelist.
Which is where we find ourselves with “The Vanishing of Sidney Hall”, whom we are to believe is a high school dropout author whose first novel is not only a best seller, but is nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. We are told his story spread out across three separate time periods, which includes the story of his first novel, the tragedy of his success, and the wandering journey his life becomes. We’re never told the entirety of any story until the end, which creates anticipation that, frankly, doesn’t deliver.
It also doesn’t help that Logan Lerman has troubles carrying Sidney Hall as a character, partially because of Christensen’s storytelling style, but mostly because he never seems like he’s actually experienced any of the storylines, and not in a good way. I did enjoy his three separate looks for each storyline, but he’s nowhere near the amalgamation of every disturbed suburban novelist, despite an impressive supporting cast.
“The Vanishing of Sidney Hall” (2017) is a film about an uncompromising writer told in a complicated fashion, ultimately failing to deliver any message at all. Christensen and Dolan craft a script that’s too clever, gambling on a finished product that has obvious flaws. Ironically, fans of uncompromising writers will probably not like this film, but I suspect it will find its own small fan base, and perhaps even attain its own cult status. Only time will tell.
Rotten Tomatoes: 9%
One Movie Punch: 6.4/10
“The Vanishing of Sidney Hall” (2017) is rated R and is streaming on Amazon Prime.