SXSW FILM 2014
By Don Simpson | March 17, 2014
Director: Shawn Christensen
Writer: Shawn Christensen
Starring: Shawn Christensen, Fatima Ptacek, Emmy Rossum, Paul Wesley, Ron Perlman, Richard Schiff, Joseph Perrino
Life has beaten Richie (Shawn Christensen) into submission, leaving him with absolutely nothing to live for. Presumably alone, the love of Richie’s life, Vista (Isabelle McNally), is not coming back and he has drifted hopelessly apart from his only sibling, Maggie (Emmy Rossum). Richie’s late night gig as a janitor at a seedy underworld hotspot is not enough to cover his insurmountable debts. There seems to be only one way for Richie to escape the frustrating mundanity of his existential struggle, a slash of a razor blade across his wrist.
When Richie’s telephone rings, it awakens him from the halfheartedly attempted suicide. Hearing Maggie’s voice on the other end of the line asking for a favor is enough to motivate Richie to climb out of the bloodstained bathtub and bandage up his wrist. Still dazed and confused from his recent loss of blood, Richie dreamily stumbles across town to pick up Maggie’s daughter from school. Being that Sophia (Fatima Ptacek) has never even met her deadbeat uncle, the precocious prep school brat is a bit confused by his appearance; but Richie knows the correct password, so Sophia knows that he must be legit. Really, all Sophia cares about anyway is that she is able to keep her rigid itinerary in tact for the remainder of the evening.
A combination of factors send Sophia and Richie out to ramble across the dark side of Manhattan until the wee hours of the night. Richie exposes Sophia to a menagerie of people and places that a 5th grader should probably never experience firsthand, but the journey allows the two seemingly contradictory characters to eventually discover some common ground. Sure, Sophia is mature and wise well beyond her years; she has already achieved more successes than Richie ever has; but, Sophia has lived her life focused solely on her future. In reality, Sophia finds herself just as lonely as Richie (who is overly fixated on the trials and tribulations of his past). What the two characters must learn is how to enjoy the surprising spontaneities of life in the now.
Fleshing out this feature-length film from his Oscar-winning short film, Curfew (2012), writer-director Shawn Christensen’s Before I Disappear is by no means an enjoyable experience, because — well — suicide is certainly not the most joyful of subjects. This is very much a mood piece that is intended to transport the audience into the piss-filled gutter of Richie’s worthless existence. While Christensen seems to enjoy wallowing in the pervasive ugliness of Richie’s life, fleeting moments of magic realism hint at a possibility of a life that could become more vibrant and cheery. (A hauntingly surreal hallway party scene set to David Bowie’s “Five Years” and a bowling alley dance sequence choreographed to Goodnight Radio’s “Sophia So Far” are the film’s strangest — maybe even strongest — moments.) Richie’s destiny has already been set in motion and there is only one possible outcome for this story, so to expect any other ending will just leave you wallowing in disappointment.