‘The Vanishing of Sidney Hall’ is Better Lost Than Found

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The Vanishing of Sidney Hall

In director Shawn Christensen’s drama The Vanishing of Sidney Hall, the events follow a young and brilliant author in three important moments in his life – his life as a high school outcast, his life as an acclaimed author, and finally his life as a reclusive genius who has shunned the spotlight in order to live as a wanderer, riding the rails and setting fire to his past works in libraries along the way. As hard as it tries – and, oh boy, does it try – The Vanishing of Sidney Hall is a film of artistic flourishes looking for a story it has no real clue how to tell. This is a meandering and painful film to sit through as it bounces between its story threads for two hours before reaching its underwhelming conclusion.

When we first see Sidney Hall (Logan Lerman), he’s a high school student reading his provocative essays in front of the class even though its risqué subject matter gets him in trouble. Then the film ping pongs around. There’s a mysterious bearded stranger setting fire to books in libraries and the dogged detective work of The Searcher (Kyle Chandler) attempts to reveal his identity. There’s also the pressures of success facing a weary and older Sidney Hall, his works having become acclaimed best-sellers. Then the film also flashes back to high school, where Sidney befriends the popular quarterback of the football team Brett Newport (Brody Jenner) and eventually meets who will become his future wife Melody (Elle Fanning). Other people that are in and out of the life of Sidney Hall (depending on what point the film is covering at any given time) include his drunken mother (Michelle Monaghan), his assistant Gina (Janina Gavankar), his literary agent (Nathan Lane), and his mistress (Margaret Qualley) – all of whom are egregiously wasted in this schizophrenic film.

Shawn Christensen and co-writer Jason Dolan take their time in presenting the audience with the connectivity that binds these threads together. All the while they refuse to provide the audience with any information that would make these fragments the least bit interesting. The Vanishing of Sidney Hall at its heart is aiming to be a mystery but this really isn’t the kind of story that needs to be withholding information for effect. It means that a lot of stuff happens with little rhyme or reason for much of the film’s running time before it races to piece it all together at the end. Once the puzzle has been completed, it’s like you just watched a full-grown adult take two hours to put together a 12-piece jigsaw puzzle.

The Vanishing of Sidney Hall is more an endurance test than anything, daring you to just turn it off before its next ridiculous reveal or time jump. This is a movie that wants to be taken seriously, so deadly seriously in every facet of its being. What it all amounts to is a series of non-linear contrivances, matters of life and death that are only capable of eliciting a yawn instead of an emotional response. It’s impossible to take the events of this film seriously when you’re forced to watch poor Logan Lerman donning the most laughably awful fake beard I’ve seen outside of a low budget sketch comedy show.

No matter how hard you try, it’s just impossible to find the redeeming value of The Vanishing of Sidney Hall. No matter how hard its stars try, they can’t make the material come to life. It’s a film that carries itself with heaping loads of unearned gravitas, demanding that you stare at the screen in solemn contemplation at how a little non-linear storytelling is somehow going to make an array of clichés seem fresh and original. The Vanishing of Sidney Hall is a poorly written movie about a supposedly great writer. It attempts to make a simple drama a complex mystery that never captivates. There’s only one gripping mystery here: Who in the hell thought this should be a mystery?

The Vanishing of Sidney Hall
  • Overall Score
1

Summary

A mystery that bumble through three threads of the life of its main character, The Vanishing of Sidney Hall is an endurance test as it meanders about its absurd and unengaging story.

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  1. JH September 25, 2020 Reply

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