Traumatic drama “The Vanishing of Sidney Hall” full of solid concepts, struggles to find its balance.
The human brain is an amazing and traumatic construct. Full of neurons and synapses that fire faster than we even realize, it regulates our bodies, our emotional states, our memories . . . our experiences. The mind is impressionable, so when something traumatic happens, the chemistry is altered, creating varying states of consciousness. No, I’m not a neurologist and I don’t have a medical degree. This is what I took away from Shawn Christensen’s “The Vanishing of Sidney Hall” which opened in theaters today.
On paper, the story by Mr. Christensen and Jason Dolan must’ve sounded like a pulpy adventure in which a brilliant but cloistered student, Sidney Hall (Logan Lerman) tests the limits of his mind. Unfortunately, the altered states of reality that are presented jar the narrative. The story isn’t difficult to follow, but much like someone’s brain deteriorating, we get glimpses into Sidney’s journey.
Where the story crumbles into a self-destructive prose, the supporting cast makes the case why Sidney’s journey was so fascinating, much like life itself, as each character is an emotion or a reaction in Sidney’s brain. Elle Fanning played Melody, a love interest for Sidney. Michelle Monaghan played Mrs. Hall. Both characters are on the opposite spectrum in Sidney’s mind, but resolve to the same logical conclusion.
Blake Jenner plays Brett Newport, the high school jock. Though they are not friends, they share a common interest throughout the story that is key to Sidney’s survival. Margaret Qualley plays Alexandra, another love interest. There’s a scene in which both love interests intersect. Psychologically, the scene was a fascinating breakdown, but is an example where Mr. Christensen could have taken the emotional aspect of the narrative further.
I suppose this is where Yahya Abdul-Mateen II comes in. As Duane, a history teacher at Sidney’s high school, he is the only person at school that Sidney could relate to. The bond they develop is strong. He was the most interesting character to watch develop because of his function in the story and how he relates to Sidney. Nathan Lane plays Harold, Sidney’s literary agent. Mr. Lane the actor is a hoot to watch in anything. Here, he plays “pushy” and on the surface you’d think nothing of it. Yet, you know there is more to his character than meets the eye. Tim Blake Nelson plays Johan, another interesting character in that he is only on screen for a few minutes, yet he is a major part of Sidney’s life.
Kyle Chandler is The Searcher. A revelation of the character makes the character all the more interesting, if it were a part of any other story than this one. And that’s the trouble with “The Vanishing of Sidney Hall.” It has a lot of solid ideas, and it was executed as well as it possibly could be. However, the story’s dual purpose fails to find a center which balances the two halves. The intent is sold, but the drama takes itself too seriously crumbling the execution.
“The Vanishing of Sidney Hall” is rated R by the MPAA.