Before I Disappear
November 28, 2014
1 hour 38 minutes
In 2012, writer/director Shawn Christensen made a 20 minute short film entitled "Curfew," telling the story of Richie, a suicidal man given the opportunity by his desperate/estranged sister to take care of his niece Sophia for a few hours. The short has been widely lauded by everyone who's seen it, myself included, and even went so far as to win the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. Christensen then took the short, along with its music and his young co-star Fatima Ptacek, and expanded it to a 98 minute feature film entitled "Before I Disappear," which actually won the Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival earlier this year. Some notable differences present include an expanded storyline that includes the main character Richie's personal life, as well as the casting additions of "Shameless's" Emmy Rossum and "Sons of Anarchy's" Ron Perlman. To me, these additions actually enhanced the film as a whole into something deeper, more symbolic, and a lot more personal than the short it was based off of.
I give props to Christensen for being able to take this story and give it a dark and realistic edge to it, while at the same time going out for the strange and surreal quirks that the film has. This felt like Christensen's version of "Garden State" in the sense that both films deal with things that feel very personal on screen as well as the surreal minds that the main characters of both films see the world with. Christensen himself not only wrote and directed a well-made movie, but his performance as Richie was very impressive and pretty damn great. While the last film he wrote, 2011's "Abduction," wasn't anything particularly great, I still found something rather personal in it, plus the concept of it all was original and clever. It is clearly shown here that Christensen learned from his mistakes in "Abduction" and has made a movie that is sharper, more engaging, and overall a very good movie.
As great as Christensen's work on the film was, I still felt that his 11 year old co-star Fatima Ptacek stole the show. She reminded me a lot of Ciara Bravo from the TV shows "Red Band Society" and "Big Time Rush" in a good way. Both actresses have this quirky spunk to them that makes them not only adorable, but incredibly likable at the same time. Ptacek's character in this movie, Sophia, compliments Christensen's Richie very well. Both characters need each other, whether they realize it or not, and that makes their journey together all the more relatable. The rest of the supporting cast, including Emmy Rossum, are all really good and serve their purpose to the story very well. Having said that, though, it's the bond and chemistry between Christensen and Ptacek that drives the film home and makes it more than just a good film.
"Before I Disappear" is quite a remarkable directorial debut from Mr. Christensen. Over the course of an hour and a half, we get a simplistic yet layered story, characters that all serve a purpose, and an overall message of living life despite the world around not always being so grand. It's kind of funny to have this film come out the same year as Zach Braff's follow up to "Garden State," "Wish I Was Here." Considering that "Wish I Was Here" wasn't as great as it could have been considering how incredible "Garden State" is, I guess you could consider this film to be that follow-up people had been looking for. Is this a perfect film on all accounts? I would say no to that. However, the flaws I had with this film are minimal, and at the end of the day, "Before I Disappear" is emotional, touching, and overall a really great indie gem to come out in this insanely crowded year for movies.