The most passable lens through which to watch writer-director Shawn Christensen’s risible indie drama “The Vanishing of Sidney Hall” is by counting the many ways it grates as both an agonized-artist pity party and a male fantasy of envied power.
Sidney (Logan Lerman) is at first the precocious, misunderstood high-school writer wannabe whose class readings routinely get him in trouble. But he’s also sought out by the waifish blond admirer (Elle Fanning) across the street, and the secret-holding jock (Blake Jenner) who used to bully him.
Then Sidney becomes the new J.D. Salinger, bespectacled, dismissive of fame and weird fans, and blasé about bedding the daughter of his editor (Nathan Lane). But when a devotee kills himself, Sidney withdraws from the world, morphing into an outlaw-bearded, train-riding hobo who burns his own books as penance, even as a mysterious searcher (Kyle Chandler) wants to write his biography. (Fame, she’s a harsh mistress!)
That’s a lot of poor-talented-me “ouch” to cram into one misguided narrative, the three phases in Sidney’s life played out simultaneously (but not seamlessly) through cross-editing. Christensen’s purity of pretentious purpose is remarkably unconcerned with such things as obviousness, superficiality, and retrograde views of women (they’re all portrayed as needy drags).
The many ridiculous tragedies are just there to slather showy woundedness on a weak, annoying character, leaving “The Vanishing of Sidney Hall” a mystery-free mystery with an inexhaustible supply of eye-rolling postures.
‘The Vanishing of Sidney Hall’
Rated: R, for language and some sexual references
Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills