The Vanishing of Sidney Hall review: A story by a teenager

The Vanishing of Sidney Hall is a film where I can feel all the cogs trying to make me like it. The cast and cinematography are great but it is a very manipulative film, which it can’t hide, very much like the eponymous character’s novels.

Logan Lerman is a talented actor. I just want to get that off the bat. So are pretty much all of the actors in this. But in the 2 hour run time, he plays an 18, 24, and 30-year-old, and it’s not in the least bit believable. That is only the first of many problems I have with The Vanishing of Sidney Hall.

During the opening sequence of the film, we are introduced to Sidney as an aspiring writer, standing in front of the class reading a passage, which is troublesome, to say the least. The character of Sidney aspires to be like one of his heroes (name dropping Hunter S. Thompson had me hanging my head in disbelief), and then struggles to deal with the consequences of becoming a Pulitzer nominated writer, and the life he has lived in the process. It sounds like a pipe dream of a teenage boy, and that’s how the film comes across.

Vanishing of Sidney Hall

Vanishing of Sidney Hall photo courtesy A24, Allied IM

Elle Fanning is a fantastic actress, if you haven’t seen The Neon Demon please rectify that straight away, she is transfixing in Nicolas Winding Refn’s ode to the fashion world. In this, merely just the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Of course she likes the things he does, of course she is super cool, and idealistic, and dreams of living in a house in the middle of nowhere. This idealistic ‘girl next door/Mary Jane’ was done well in Garden State and (500) Days of Summer, but in 2018 we have to give female characters more weight and urgency than just being his girlfriend, his wife. At one point she states that she is nothing more than the “wife of Sidney Hall”, and that would be ironic if I thought the screenwriter understood the concept. Her role here is just an idea, there is no  motive that is independent from Sidney. Oh, and at one point she has to pass for someone in her mid 20s, which is utterly laughable.

Vanishing of Sidney Hall

Vanishing of Sidney Hall photo courtesy A24, Allied IM

Reading up on the film before watching, I had come across a few notes on the editing structure, that it switches between the periods in the life of Sidney. It isn’t done in a clever way, it just comes across as a way to hide some of the nagging plot holes, and to give the ultimate finale of the film some emotional weight. But it didn’t feel earned.

This brings me onto the “heavy stuff.” The subject matter in the film gets quite dark, and very tragic. But there was little investment before such events occurred. Only in two instances did I feel something was as emotional as it was trying to be, and that was due to the actors involved, their performance, not the material itself.

The plot thread attached to Blake Jenner’s role is more interesting, and more impactful than that of Sidney Hall. To say more would be to give away an apparent emotional catalyst for our protagonist. Fresh off of The Edge of Seventeen and Everybody Wants Some (again movies I would suggest you watch rather than this one), he deserves better than the contrived teenage dialogue served here.

Same could be said of Kyle Chandler and Michelle Monaghan. Kyle Chandler as the person trying to find the vanished Sidney Hall, and Michelle Monaghan as his mother, who I can only assume was told to be a horrible mother and left to it. And that is a huge shame for both performers. They are better than the material given to them.

There is a certain cultural weight to having A24 as the production studio, seeing the ident before the film starts echoes of films like Lady Bird and Room. Apart from the actors, the cinematography by Daniel Katz is probably the only thing that deserves the A24 stamp as it were. Written and directed by Shawn Christensen (shares screenwriting credit with Jason Dolan), this could have done with another look through of the script, to take away the artificiality of the emotions I am meant to feel whilst watching it.

Everything is too artificial, manipulative; contrived feelings as though it is merely telling of an experience, rather than having the audience feel invested in the happenings on-screen. We all wrote stories as a teenager, the thing is they were never any good. Just like the two hours of The Vanishing of Sidney Hall.

The Vanishing of Sidney Hall is now in theaters.