'You Won't Miss Me'

Winner of the Gotham Award for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You, this powerful, iconoclastic pic could gain a cult following.

Ry Russo-Young’s sophomore outing, “You Won’t Miss Me,” circles, tracks and finally zeroes in on Shelly (co-scripter Stella Schnabel, daughter of helmer Julian), a troubled 23-year-old Gothamite newly released from a mental institution. Quasi-experimental pic unfolds in nonchronological, unconnected moments, its heroine’s day-to-day existence lacking the internal structure that might tie scenes together. But Russo-Young’s cubist technique infuses these moments with immediacy and presence, greatly aided by Schnabel’s standout perf. Winner of the Gotham Award for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You, this powerful, iconoclastic pic could gain a cult following. Adventurous distribs, take note.

Helmer Russo-Young, deploying an arsenal of intimate small-caliber formats (flip camera, DV, HD, Super 8 and 16mm, in black-and-white and color), patches together a brutally candid, nonjudgmental portrait of a strong woman whose out-of-control emotions set her careening through a series of chance encounters.

Shelly’s one stab at an occupation — acting — leads to auditions with hilariously pretentious directors and their minions (including mumblecore helmers Aaron Katz and Joe Swanberg). These confrontational runthroughs combine personal humiliation with rampant absurdity in ways strangely reminiscent of the 1987 audition-filled Sally Kirkland vehicle “Anna.” Despite Shelly’s many forays into self-sabotage, the pic does not spiral inexorably toward tragedy; the character’s plunges into the emotion du jour never entirely eclipse humor and fleeting self-awareness.

Shelly’s luck with men ranges from the merely unfortunate to the flat-out disastrous. The boyish lead singer of a band is lured to her hotel room, only to chastely fall asleep. A one-night stand impatiently nixes any possibility of an encore. A rejected suitor turns violent, and even Shelly’s best friend, Simon (Simon O’Connor), who generally has her back, rushes to her rescue with his girlfriend in tow.

Shelly’s experiences with women are hardly more successful. Her needy phone calls to her actress mother are always unreturned. And girly confidences shared with a temporary roommate (Carlen Altman) on a jaunt to Atlantic City quickly degenerate into a virtuoso verbal catfight.

In the general formlessness of Shelly’s existence, two sequences function as leitmotifs. One frames Shelly on the back of a motorcycle, alone despite the male figure she clings to, at different times of night or day and in various moods and textures. The other sequence samples Shelly’s final session with her loony-bin shrink. These excerpts, far from proposing a psychological reading, serve instead to distance judgment: The absence of any reverse-angle shots of the psychiatrist, who remains a disembodied voice, corresponds to the lack of reciprocity that characterizes all of Shelly’s interactions.

Shelly’s only enduring relationship is with the city, whose shifting, impressionistic scapes frame and reflect her moods — from the lyricism of cobalt blue, neon-streaked skies to the casual daytime scruffiness of Williamsburg streets. Both Shelly and Gotham seem oddly displaced in time, echoing an earlier, druggier downtown scene to which she once might have belonged.

You Won't Miss Me

Production

A Mesee Prods. production. (International sales: Visit Films, New York.) Produced by Ry Russo-Young. Directed by Ry Russo-Young. Screenplay, Russo-Young, Stella Schnabel.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, flip camera, HD, Super 8, 16mm), Kitao Sakurai, Ku-Ling Siegel; editors, Gil Kofman, Russo-Young; music, Will Bates; sound, Andrew Barchilon, Micah Bloomberg; sound re-recording mixer, Eric Offin. Reviewed at Museum of Modern Art, New York, Nov. 22, 2009. Running time: 81 MIN.

With

Stella Schnabel, Simon O'Connor, Zachary Tucker, Borden Capalino, Carlen Altman, Rene Ricard, Josephine Wheelwright, Aaron Katz, Joe Swanberg.
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