Before I Disappear movie review: barely there

Before I Disappear yellow light

The 90-minute expansion of an Oscar-winning short chooses art over heart, and lacks the emotional conviction of its progenitor.
I’m “biast” (pro): enjoyed the short film this is based on

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have seen the source material (and I like it)

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

A few years ago, writer-director Shawn Christensen won the Oscar for Best Live-Action Short for his film “Curfew,” about a depressed young man (played by the filmmaker) whose suicide attempt is interrupted by a phone call from his estranged sister asking him to do some emergency babysitting of her nine-year-old daughter. The 19-minute short was blackly charming and deeply unsentimental in how it went about its tale of redemption and reconciliation. For this 90-minute expansion of the story, Christensen, alas, chose hallucinatory style over emotional conviction, and the result is far less satisfying; sometimes briefer is better. Christensen (who previously wrote Abduction’s screenplay) returns as Richie, a lowly janitorial drone in nightclubs owned by rival shady types (Ron Perlman [The Book of Life] and Paul Wesley [Roll Bounce]), a drug-soaked environment that appears to be partly at the root of his suicidal depression. Also back is Fatima Ptacek as his niece, Sophia; the character is now a young teen who is precocious, overscheduled, and her own worst drill sergeant. The reason for mom’s (Emmy Rossum: Beautiful Creatures) extended absence is simultaneously underexamined and overexplained, making less sense the more the film tries to explore it. The reason why Richie and Sophia simply can’t hang out at the mother-and-daughter’s apartment eventually ties into that and is so flimsy that it ends up collapsing the already fragile house of cards that is the plot. Still, none of that would have mattered if Christensen made us believe that the perfect little robot of adolescent disdain that is Sophia had good reason to warm up to her fairly awful uncle simply because he dragged her around late-night NYC. The dazed and doped atmosphere of Richie’s life — and Christensen’s film — is more suited to a descent into despair for Richie, not for one about coming to a new understanding with a child. Christensen and Ptacek embody their characters plausibly: they just don’t get to enjoy the genuine meeting of souls and spirits that the filmmaker seems to believe they have. If only he had concentrated less on making Art and more on making heart.

Before I Disappear is at the IFC Center in New York City from November 28th.

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