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by Eric Kohn
December 9, 2010 5:41 AM
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REVIEW | Stage Fright: Ry Russo-Young's "You Wont Miss Me"

A scene from Ry Russo-Young's "You Wont Miss Me." [Photo courtesy of Factory 25]

Ry Russo-Young's "You Wont Miss Me" wound up in the experimental New Frontiers section at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, and won the Best Film Coming to a Theater Near You prize at the Gotham Awards that fall. It arrives in limited release nearly two years after the initial premiere with a long trail of responses that speak to its divisive nature. Is Russo-Young's sophomore feature a feeble collection of "pointless pseudo-Cassavetes stumblings-mumblings," as Robert Koehler complained in Cinemascope, or "a film about the inner life of a beautiful, troubled young lady without the objectifying filter of the male gaze," per former Spout critic Karina Longworth? The not-so-simple answer is both.

"You Wont Miss Me" (lack of apostrophe intended) stars Stella (daughter of Julian) Schanbel as a young nervous wreck named Shelly. The movie begins with her release from a mental hospital, where she clearly doesn't belong and only attended so she could get some attention. An aspiring actress, she wanders around New York City seeing old friends and sleeping around, with the possibly intentional effect of mostly freaking people out.

The crux of the movie revolves around Schnabel's creepy depiction of the low self-esteem issues plaguing a woman with ironic dreams of getting cast in a stage production. (In that regard, it works like a scrappy companion piece to Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan.") She laments that her shrink "doesn't think acting is good for my psychology," perhaps not realizing that her desire to perform bleeds into messy social life.

Shelly is a constantly anxious, unnerving presence, but also oddly sympathetic. (Schnabel heavily improvised for the performance, and shares a writing credit with Russo-Young.) She stumbles through a variety of unfulfilling sexual encounters with people she hardly knows, and routinely botches her auditions. Her constantly troubled, ever-changing expressions formalize her alienation. "I have time," she says after a stage director gives a lukewarm response to a demonstration of her thespian skills. "That's all I have."

The most audacious aspect of the movie comes from its uneven appearance. Russo-Young depicts Shelly's fragmented life in the construction of the film, which includes scenes shot in HD, various film stocks, and via Flipcam. Some fragments are more effective than others. The collage approach often ruptures the narrative just when it starts to crystallize. Fortunately, a hilariously awkward fight scene between Shelly and her supposed friend, set two-thirds of the way through the story, reignites interest in Shelly's social dysfunction. "I only pretend to be pathetic," she concludes. She certainly does seem to prey on bad vibes.

Inhabiting her mindset, "You Wont Miss Me" forms a less refined work than Russo-Young's masterful debut, the brooding sisterly drama "Orphans." The new film widens her stylistic capacity while continuing to emphasize an interest in the nuances of depressed individuals. The penultimate improv scene (which features a who's who of mumblecore auteurs) underscores Shelly's desire to make sense out of her endless frustration. The pointlessness of it all is the point, which combines the strengths and flaws of the movie into a provocative, challenging contradiction -- just like Shelly herself.

criticWIRE grade: B+

Ry Russo-Young's "You Wont Miss Me" opens in limited release this Friday, December 10.

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