The eponymous central character of The Vanishing of Sidney Hall is a personification of the concept of toxic masculinity. As a primer for those unaware of that concept, essentially what we are talking about here is the fact that the screenplay by Jason Dolan and director Shawn Christensen revolves entirely around the dominant ego of its central figure. I hesitate to call Sidney Hall (Logan Lerman) a "protagonist," as he is entirely unworthy of sympathy and entirely worthy of every inch of suffering and pain that might befall him, and the reason is because everything here pivots on his happiness relativity to his male ego.
The screenplay is divided into three segments of Sidney's life. In the first, we learn the beginnings of an author who will be a significant influence on the climate. Indeed, names like David Foster Wallace are dropped, and one can imagine that Holden Caulfield is on the tip of most tongues. The first bit of writing to which we are witness is a presentation to his classmates of a journal entry. The subject matter is pointlessly provocative, a crude sexual fantasy that ends with a graphic description of his happy ending (When, later, we discover the identity of the object of this fantasy, we should be horrified, but the feeling is tempered by an utter lack of surprise).
That empty provocation carries over into nearly every aspect of the storytelling elsewhere, beginning with that ultimately useless triptych story technique. None of the segments of Sidney's life is any more interesting than the others. Indeed, they are all equally bereft of insight or value. At age 18, Sidney is a writing prodigy waiting for his escape from dull, disaffected parents (played by Darren Pettie and Michelle Monaghan). At age 24, he is dealing with the direct repercussions of his work, of which we hear only a few underwhelming sentences and far too much praise to be believed. A young man, who approached Sidney at a book signing to telegram this to anyone listening, has killed himself as a result of his takeaway from the novel.
Christensen and Dolan very much would like to acquit Sidney of his variously personality defects, which leads us to the most overtly manipulative section of the story. Sidney is thirty years old and has vanished. What has led to his disappearance from society is basically just one, grossly melodramatic development after another. It reduces the surrounding figures in Sidney-s life - from his parents, whose disdain for each other is only equal to their lack of interest in Sidney, to his high-school sweetheart and eventual wife Melody (Elle Fanning), who dreams of escape as a teen and is resigned to stasis in marriage (only to exist for the most melodramatic event of all), to his jock classmate Brett (Blake Jenner), whose secret is tied to Sidney's greatest regret, to his literary agent (played by Nathan Lane), who can only enable his self-importance, to a mysterious figure only credited as the Searcher (Kyle Chandler), who has some questions for Sidney.
To pour even more salt on these gaping wounds in the structure, the screenwriters further wrap these concerns in a series of mostly useless mystery boxes. An event defines each of these vignettes, each definitive incident as pathetically uninteresting and cheaply melodramatic as the next. The Vanishing of Sidney Hall is an unbelievable disaster, a work of such proud manipulation that all the actors are wasted, all intrigue is barely even theoretical, and all signs of a beating heart have been exsanguinated.
Logan Lerman (Sidney), Elle Fanning (Melody), Kyle Chandler (The Searcher), Michelle Monaghan (Velouria), Blake Jenner (Brett), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Duane), Janina Gavankar (Gina), Margaret Qualley (Alexandra), Nathan Lane (Harold), Tim Blake Nelson (Johan).
Directed by Shawn Christensen and written by Christensen and Jason Dolan.
Rated R (language, sexual references).
Released in select cities on March 2, 2018.