Movie Review: ‘THE VANISHING OF SIDNEY HALL’ loses all sight of coherence

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

THE VANISHING OF SIDNEY HALL

Rated R, 119 minutes.
Director: Shawn Christensen
Cast: Michelle MonaghanElle FanningLogan LermanKyle ChandlerJanina GavankarBlake JennerTim Blake Nelson and Nathan Lane

THE VANISHING OF SIDNEY HALL is not a bad movie, but it’s also nowhere near as good as it seems to think it is. It almost feels as though writer-director Shawn Christensen (BEFORE I DISAPPEAR) was aware that his film had very few original ideas, so he attempts to distract the audience with the illusion of originality by hitting them over the head with nonlinear storytelling.

Three timelines play simultaneously, with one featuring Sidney (Logan Lerman) as an angsty high school student, the second as a successful author with a cult following, and the third as a deranged homeless man who’s lost it all. This naturally leads the viewer to wonder just how on earth Sidney got to where he is in the third timeline. But after a two-hour run time, some genuinely surprising twists are left feeling underwhelming.

Tasked with portraying a man at three dramatically different stages in life, Lerman (THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER) fully commits to his performance as the titular Sidney Hall. The supporting cast collectively give adequate performances, with standouts including Elle Fanning as Sidney’s wife Melody, Blake Jenner as the high school bully, and Nathan Lane as a sleazy publishing agent. Overall, the cast feels authentic and does their best with the material they’re given. The problem is that the material is irreparably bland.

My largest complaint with the film is that for a story focusing so much on this brilliant writer, the viewer doesn’t get to hear much of his work. I can only put up with characters talking about how “gifted” and “amazing” Sidney is for so long before the writing of the film itself starts to come across as lazy and cliche. For what it’s worth, this isn’t the case early on, as we are treated to a voice-over of Sidney’s provocative and controversial high school essay. Yet, this is about the only legitimate sample of his work that we get for the rest of the movie.

Although it’s told through an admittedly interesting perspective and capable of sporadically providing some thought-provoking twists, THE VANISHING OF SIDNEY HALL is simply a boring film with too little to say in too long of a run time. Lerman is a talented young man and undoubtedly has a compelling career ahead of him, but it’s probably for the best if this misfire vanished from our memory for good.

[Grade: C]

THE VANISHING OF SIDNEY HALL opens today.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.