WORDS / LANCE ST. LAURENT
With the exception of the manic pixie dream girl, there is no more obnoxiously pervasive cliche in American independent film than that of the aimless, cynical white guy. You know the type, persistent five o’clock shadow, glazed over look, great taste in music, usually a dark past that turned this deeply creative so-and-so into an insufferable sad sack. It’s a shame, then, to see a director with as much aesthetic skill as newcomer Shawn Christensen (who also writes and stars) default to such a boring archetype to Before I Disappear, a feature-length adaptation of his own short Curfew.
His instincts as a director are keen; his camera is playfully mobile yet disciplined, creating a film that is often arrestingly beautiful. If only Christensen’s instincts as a writer and actor matched. As Richie, our hangdog protagonist, Christensen is a black hole of charisma, oscillating between a half-mumbled depression and a high energy exasperation that is played (far too many times) for comedic effect. He’s easily outacted by his young costar Fatima Ptacek, playing his high-strung 10-year-old niece, but Christensen the writer fails her too. Ptacek is clearly a gifted child actor, but her character (as with Emmy Rossum as her mother) is a consistently shrill and unpleasant presence, until the screenplay dictates that she isn’t. Such is the case with almost all of the characters of Before I Disappear. More than just the inconsistency in character, though, there’s a tonal confusion at the heart of the film that robs any serious moment of gravity or any moment humor of feeling like anything other than forced. Even with a cast that includes the great Ron Perlman and Richard Schiff in supporting roles, Before I Disappear never rises above a laundry list of indie cliches, despite its visual pleasures