This review originally ran as part of our coverage of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
“You Wont Miss Me” is all about Shelly Brown, a girl with the kind of problems plenty of 20-somethings dream of moving to New York for the express purpose of having: substance abuse, reckless hookups in her bedraggled Williamsburg apartment with shaggy boys who mistreat her, sudden fights with friends and strangers, an unseen actress mother who doesn’t pay her enough attention, and no job beyond auditioning for roles herself. But the film, the second from director Ry Russo-Young, isn’t your average chronicle of dabblings in urban self-destruction, because Shelly, as she’s begun to realize herself, can’t turn down the volume. She’s not crazy — the film is structured around fractions of her exit interview with the psychiatrist tossing from a mental hospital because she doesn’t belong there — but she’s the kind of person who gets called that behind her back, her emotions and moods always slipping out of her control, her intense and frightening need for connection driving away whoever she reaches out to.
Poignantly, pitifully lonely and vulnerable, but also given to wearisome self-defeating bursts and bouts of self-pity, Shelly isn’t exactly lovable, and how much you become invested in her anyway will be the measure of how well you like the film, since she’s in every scene, sometimes providing voiceover musings during dreamlike dialog-free shots walking along the sidewalk or riding on the road. In episodic segments, chronology uncertain, Shelly picks up a photographer at a party, a boy in an elevator, a motorcyclist… somewhere. She convinces the best friend she’s in love with to spend the weekend with her at her mother’s house, though he unexpectedly brings along his new girlfriend; shoots a film someone she met in the hospital; heads to Atlantic City to see The Virgins, only to fail to hold the interest of the lead singer afterward and to lash out at her friend in frustration; auditions for two plays and a movie and in general acts out.
Shelly’s played by Stella Schnabel, daughter of Julian, in a fearsomely committed performance that’s at least partially based on improv — she’s given a cowriting credit. She’s too fierce-looking to be traditionally pretty, though there’s something enthralling about her unfiltered intensity — you understand why the talky director holding the last audition she attends would want to cast Shelly in his film, even as he expresses concerns about her ability to distinguish fiction from reality.
“Orphans,” Russo-Young’s first film, was grouped into mumblecore more because of its premiere at SXSW 2007, the Woodstock of the movement, and her role in Joe Swanberg’s “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” than any stylistic similarities. Swanberg, along with Aaron Katz, Greta Gerwig and other familiar faces from those films, appear in that last audition scene, with Katz as the director who wants to see everyone in motion in acting exercises. It’s awkwardly funny, though it also seems like a rebuke of the crippling self-consciousness, the niceness that’s the affliction of all mumblecore characters: Shelly’s far from self-conscious or safe. As he delves into this, the would-be filmmaker attracts Shelly’s wrath, and she escalates quickly, calling him pretentious and telling him she doesn’t want to be in his movie, while he maintains a bloodless calm and responds as if they’re still engaged in an even-keeled conversation. There are prices to pay in feeling too much, “You Wont Miss Me” assures, but there are also times when people really ought to scream.
“You Wont Miss Me” opens in New York on December 10th.