A Sundance 2009 entry, You Won’t Miss Me is a quasi-experimental travelogue through twentysomething malaise, opening this week in New York and just before Christmas in Los Angeles, to be followed by a (limited, one presumes) big-city national roll-out. Starring Stella Schnabel, the impressionable daughter of talented filmmaker father Julian, the film exudes a woozy hold — in equal measure because of and despite its wounded aimlessness — that a lot of its like-minded indie brethren fail to convincingly emanate.
Co-written by Ry Russo-Young (Orphans) and Schnabel, the movie centers on Shelly Brown, a 23-year-old urbanite who cycles through a series of unhappy hook-ups; takes a trip to Atlantic City with a friend that ends in a sniping fallout; and hits the acting audition circuit, in less than enthused fashion. Interspersed with this loose narrative are flippant response segments from a presumed therapy session, along with short, time-nonspecific montages depicting Shelly in life and love.
Schnabel has the ability to project a simultaneous vulnerability and masked cattiness, and her turn is more than one without vanity — it is without care or regard for audience perception one way or another. With neither affect nor guile, she casually owns scenes and anchors the movie, an utterly natural screen presence. Watching her performance, one is reminded of Marlon Brando’s line from The Wild One, when asked what he was rebelling against: “Whaddya got?” Shelly is neither to the manor born nor outwardly beset with more conventionally prescribed traumas. She is a character of recondite desire and inwardly reflected nervous energy, and so her quiet unhappiness and small examples of acting out elicit a sort of puzzlebox pleasure in trying to unravel and figure out her larger issues.
Detractors will hammer the proper narrative of You Won’t Miss Me (not entirely without justification) for some of its mumblecore ramblings, but to dismiss it out of hand in this regard is to ignore the manner in which the film’s kaleidoscopic style — inclusive of various formats, and looks — smartly dovetails with its protagonist’s flitting psyche. The movie may not arrive at a comfortable end point so much as finish, but Russo-Young proves herself to be a shrewdly perceptive chronicler of the damages young people often self-inflict despite better judgments, and her engagingly unassertive and evocative sophomore feature recalls the work of an early John Cassavettes, marking her as a filmmaker to watch. (Factory 25/Meese Productions, unrated, 81 minutes)