A quick note to film goers: Ry Russo Young’s heartbreaking You Wont Miss Me opens today in Manhattan. I love this movie; for me, it captures the essential energy of New York City and is truly evocative of the downtown cinema that has made the city such a vital community for independent and experimental filmmakers for generations. It is also a difficult film with a complicated protagonist which, for a lot of people who equate going to the movies to their own social lives, can seem off-putting; I’m not sure when it became popular to judge the quality of fictional characters based on how much time you’d want to spend with them at a dinner party, but clearly the world needs a better set of critical tools for evaluating complex, flawed, human characters. Stella Schnabel is all of those things in this film, a tremendous performance that feels like watching a whirlwind of need spiraling out of control and devastating everything around her. Whether or not Shelly (Schnabel’s character) would make a good best friend is beside the point; she’s young, she’s alive, she’s real and Russo-Young uses a vibrant aesthetic language to capture the multi-faceted complexity of her experience.
I saw this almost two years ago at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Back then, I wrote of the film:
“So far, no film has knocked me out quite like Ry Russo-Young’s You Wont Miss Me; by my reckoning, it is the best film at this festival and it, along with other excellent movies like Unmade Beds, Stingray Sam, Bronson and Humpday, has the audacity to reject the commercial formula of so many films in the festival in favor of a living, breathing demonstration of pure cinema.
Shelly (Stella Schnabel in a bravura performance) is a struggling actress who is on her way to being released from a psychiatric care facility after being institutionalized for her brutally honest behavior. While she won’t articulate the reasons for her actions, she instead seems to live in-between her desire to have an open, honest life where emotion and action allow her to carry on, and her need to find a connection to the world around her, much of which rejects her commitment to honest, serious emotion. She is a multi-faceted character, as much a shining gem as she is rock hard, and her search for truthful, deeply felt experience is coupled with a tremendous desire for tenderness. All of these feelings seem to surround Shelly, tossing her and turning her and leaving us breathless.
You Wont Miss Me
Schnabel’s performance is the perfect embodiment of what seems to be missing from New York City in our time; she’s brash, wild and free. In other hands, this performance may have been lost to the dominant Sundance gentility of the HDCam two-shot or the now insufferable cliché of the languid montage of mundane close-ups, showing us the accumulation of details that make up the boring life we all seem to be living. Thankfully, Russo-Young rejects the tired, linear aesthetic of the Hollywood calling card film and instead uses multiple shooting formats (each of them evocative of the complexity of Shelly’s unspoken desires) and a non-linear narrative that throw us into the deep-end of Shelly’s state of mind. The cell phone camera, 8mm, 16mm and video blend together to express the accumulation of experience, to separate moments from one another and breathe cinematic life into Shelly’s story.
After days on end of scripted, plot-driven quirk loaded with downbeat winks and nods, seeing You Won’t Miss Me was like suddenly finding yourself leaving a tea party filled with strangers and walking smack dab into a riot. The movie felt like it had been pulled from a time capsule, from a different New York City, a downtown world that has the texture of the late-1970’s or early-80’s, a sense of vibrant danger and creative explosion. In this sense, You Wont Miss Me describes a timeless independence, when movies rejected formula in the name of honesty and emotion. I can’t stop feeling it, even now…”
Now that it is opening, I hope you’ll take a chance on this film, grab a ticket, sit in the dark and see for yourself.