Sundance 2017 Review: Sidney Hall is A Mystery that Should’ve Remained One.
Sidney Hall is the latest film from writer/director Shawn Christensen. The film tells the story of a teenager named Sidney Hall played by Logan Lerman with dreams of becoming a well-known author. Instead of following the standard narrative setup, the script which is written by Christensen and Jason Dolan focuses on three different stages of Hall’s life. The film begins with Hall as a teenager but then crisscrosses between his teenage life, his 20s, and his 30s.
Director Shawn Christensen won an Academy Award for his short film Curfew. His feature-length debut, Before I Disappear was a solid film with a great cast and story that kept me invested from beginning to end. His latest film Sidney Hall just premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, and I was hoping that Christensen’s sophomore project would deliver a great story along with powerful performances from his all-star cast that includes Logan Lerman, Michelle Monaghan, Elle Fanning, and many others.
Sidney Hall isn’t just a bad film; it’s an awful one. I typically try to find something to cling onto when I know I am watching a film that filmmakers have spent years upon years trying to bring to life. The harsh reality is that I have almost nothing positive to say about Sidney Hall. It is one of the messiest films that I have ever seen and the way that the story is told adds nothing to the storytelling.
Just like the film, I am sure my review will be all over the place. I have so many issues that I don’t even know if I can touch upon all of them in this review. The film opens with Sidney reading an essay about masturbation to his high-school English class. The film then jumps to the future where we see Sidney as a published author being interviewed on television. After this, the film goes back to high school, where the audience is introduced to Brett Newport (Blake Jenner). Brett is a jock who bullies the nerds and outcasts. Brett, for some unknown reason, befriends Sidney and they drive to a remote location to dig up a box that he buried in the middle of nowhere years ago. As all this is going on, Sidney falls in love with a girl named Melody (Elle Fanning) who he already loves long before he even meets her.
The issues throughout Sidney Hall all lie within the script. The cast doesn’t know what to do with the material, and that is apparent on-screen. Lerman tries to make it work, but he just can’t do it. His character Sidney is this dull and arrogant person that I couldn’t give two shits about. The mystery that the film tries to create about his life as we see him transition from his sarcastic teenager to a drifter isn’t exciting to watch at all. The script wants to believe that it is telling this profound tale of Sidney’s life and how various people have impacted his past and future.
Sidney Hall deals with so many depressing subject matters, yet none of them do anything to make the audience care. Child abuse, rape, cheating, death, and divorce are all subjects touched upon in this film. You would think with so many emotional issues that at least one of them would spark some sort of emotional reaction but alas none of them do. In fact, the way these topics are handled is completely baffling. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I have to bring up how stupid this film is. There is a reveal that one of the film’s characters have been abused by a family member. It is later revealed that the same exact character videotaped his father raping an underage girl when he was a little kid. Does anyone else see a problem with this? Let me also point out that the child abuse has been going on for the character’s entire life and that the person attended a public school. I guess all the teachers and counselors are completely oblivious to what is going on in the classroom and with their students.
If you think what I just mentioned above is absurd, you should see how the script introduces the relationship between Melody and Sidney. Melody leaves a hand-written letter in Sidney’s mailbox. Sidney reads the letter and instantly falls in love with Melody even though he doesn’t know who she is or what she looks like. Sidney goes to school the next day and screams out the name Melody everywhere he goes but sadly can’t find her. He thinks all hope is lost until he walks out his front door and learns that Melody is the girl who lives across the street! He talks to her and asks “have we met before?” I seriously wanted to scream “Are you fucking kidding me right now?” If you think that is ridiculous, right after they talk, Sidney creepily stares out his bedroom window which by the way, perfectly lines up to Melody’s window. So just to recap, we as an audience are not only supposed to believe that Sidney and Melody have never left their house at the same time but also that Sidney has never looked out his bedroom window before meeting Melody on that faithful day.
I could go on and on about how stupid this film is, but I will spare you the details. Just know that the talented cast is entirely wasted. The mysteries aren’t compelling, and almost everything about the film makes little to no sense. There is another scene where Sidney’s mother is screaming at Sidney telling him that she doesn’t want him to leave. She pushes him, and he bangs his head which causes him to bleed profusely. In any other film or real life, a mother would show concern, but that isn’t the case in this film. It almost feels like every character doesn’t have the ability to think. The script is more worried about how to crisscross the times rather than create characters and a story that actually makes sense.
Speaking of crisscrosses through time, there is no specific time-frame to know just how much time we actually spend with these characters. I can only assume it is about 15-20 years based on what Christensen said during the Q&A. With that being the case, when you look at the way they handled Sidney and Melody growing older, it isn’t done well. Sidney and Melody didn’t look like they aged at all but again, we are supposed to believe that Lerman is 30 something just because he has a beard. It is honestly hard for me to say anything positive about Sidney Hall because there are so many drawbacks to the film. The only good things to come out of this film are Nathan Lane and Christensen’s direction.
Sidney Hall is a mystery without any real mystery. The performances are flat, the script is a total mess, and the film is a complete and total bore from start to finish. It is so sad when you watch a film from a gifted director and it turns out this bad. I honestly have no clue how this project even got made. Sidney Hall attempts to manipulate the audience by trying to make them care about characters without given a single reason to. It throws every single depressing situation at its audience and yet still cannot manage to achieve tearjerker status. Sidney Hall is a pathetic film and one that will most likely appear on my worst films of 2017 list.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s final rating is a 3 out of 10.