“The Vanishing of Sidney Hall”

 

            A high school kid named Sidney Hall (Logan Lerman) has a tramuatic home life.  His mother (Michelle Monaghan) still resents getting pregnant so young that it derailed her life.  We never quite know what's wrong with her husband, Sidney's Dad, but he seems inhabitated by the 1,000-yard stare.  Sidney is solicitious with his Dad, but returns the lack of love from his Mom, who's somehow simultaneouly possessive and dismissive.

            Sidney is not popular at school.  He's an introverted kid who writes in his journals all the time.  He also has a wicked sense of impropriety; he'll write intentionally seamy, steamy essays and read them aloud to his English class, just to watch the shocked reaction.  There is one teacher who's impressed with his talent, and encourages him to keep writing.

            Sidney hasn't had much luck with girls, but all that changes with the anonymous letter in his mailbox from Melody (Elle Fanning), who's realized she's going to have to make the first move.  They fall hard for each other, pledging to run away together, and to meet at their dream house on May 25th, the year they turn old, that is, 30, whether they're together or not.  Yes, the flimsy, whimsical adolescent romance.

            But the dark side touched Sidney's life, as well.  A kid he knew better than most committed suicide, and Sidney was so moved that he wrote a whole book about it, called “Suburban Tragedy.”

It winds up being a huge success.  And then, almost predictably, Sidney becomes a victim in his own success story.

            The movie keeps jumping back and forth between time periods, but eventually we can fashion a more linear narrative ourselves:  Sidney lives like a hobo, riding freight trains.  There's this mysterious Searcher (Kyle Chandler) who keeps looking for him, but we're not sure why.  We're wondering what happened to Melody.  And while we're wondering that, we meet Sidney's agent (Nathan Lane), who has this disturbing habit of conducting meetings in his office without any pants.  Don't worry, he's still got his socks, shoes, shirt, tie, coat and boxers----just no pants.  Now that's a meeting you're not likely to forget anytime soon.

            Though Sidney hasn't done much to generate our empathy, other than being misunderstood, and loving a hound dog, still, we find ourselves caring about what happens to him, and whether he can ever get over himself long enough to find his way in the world.  Perhaps that's because it's perilously close to the personal pilgrimage of anybody who ever tried putting words down on paper.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association