In case you needed more proof that the SXSW festival has become an overblown tech and marketing event with zero artistic credibility, look no further than Shawn Christensen’s Before I Disappear, the Audience Award Winner at 2013’s festival.
Expanded from a 2012 Oscar-winning short, this tedious debut feature hits on every typical American indie cliché: siblings who don’t get along, bad parenting, a (man’s) refusal to grow up, dancing, droll attempts at humor, and a protagonist with a crappy job who can still afford a giant Manhattan apartment. Of course, the greatest cliché of all — writing, directing, and starring in your own emotionally mealy movie — is, well, the entire problem here.
Aside from having no distance from this project, Christensen has clearly spread himself too thin. Richie (Christensen) is roused from a suicide attempt by his estranged, super-businesswoman sister Maggie (Emmy Rossum), who can’t pick up her daughter Sophia (Fatima Ptacek) from school due to a mysterious emergency. Richie obliges, and through a series of mishaps ends up dragging his precocious, overachieving niece around with him all night, through clubs and parties at drug dealers’ lofts. But instead of being dead by dawn, this odd couple — ya guessed it! — come to like each other.
What makes this minefield of sphincter-clenching sassy bons mots even harder to stomach is the uninspired photography, which impassionedly pleads for significance through use of slow motion, bokeh-effect streetlights, and close-ups.