'Before I Disappear': A Long Night's Tale Without A Short Film's Charm A man struggles through an evening of dark thoughts in Shawn Christensen's feature-length adaptation of his Oscar-winning live-action short.
NPR logo 'Before I Disappear': A Long Night's Tale Without A Short Film's Charm


Movie Reviews

'Before I Disappear': A Long Night's Tale Without A Short Film's Charm

Richie (Shawn Christensen) and Sophia (Fatima Ptacek) in Before I Disappear. Charlotte Jardat/Dear Vista Inc./IFC Films hide caption

toggle caption
Charlotte Jardat/Dear Vista Inc./IFC Films

Richie (Shawn Christensen) and Sophia (Fatima Ptacek) in Before I Disappear.

Charlotte Jardat/Dear Vista Inc./IFC Films

Curfew, Shawn Christensen's 2012 Oscar-winning live-action short, tells a simple, affecting story about Richie (Christensen), a depressed man who is about to commit suicide when he receives an emergency call from his estranged sister (Kim Allen) asking him to babysit his preteen niece Sophia (Fatima Ptacek) for the night.

Ptacek and Christensen take up these same roles in Before I Disappear, a feature-length expansion of Curfew that uses much of the dialogue and even most of the shots from the 2012 short and pads them with a muddle of stories that feature hallucinations, gangsters, bad parenting, and heartbreak.

The primary change between Curfew and Before I Disappear comes in Richie's story. Whereas in the short, Christensen left the source of Richie's depression only vaguely defined, in Before I Disappear, a suicide note to a deceased ex-girlfriend immediately provides context for the opening scene in which Richie is trying to end his life.

A phone call from Maggie, played this time by Emmy Rossum, interrupts that attempt as Richie must go pick up Sophia up from school and drop her off at her apartment. Later, Sophia calls to say that Maggie still hasn't come home—turns out she's in jail—so Richie goes back to Sophia's place despite having taken about a dozen of what he thought were sleeping pills but which, due to a fortunate misunderstanding with his dealer, turn out to be menopause medication.

If that weren't enough, there's also the matter of a dead woman Richie found the night before the movie takes place while working his night shift as a janitor at a Brooklyn club. Bill (Ron Perlman), the owner of the club, has asked Richie to keep the matter quiet, which gets complicated when Richie realizes that the woman was dating Gideon (Paul Wesley), a drug dealer Richie also works for who owns the bowling alley-cum-bar where Richie takes Sophia to pass the night as they wait for Maggie's release.

All this has the makings of not only a bad night for Richie but also a film overloaded with stories and not much time to explore them. Given that Before I Disappear began as a short film, it's easy to blame the movie's disorderly plot on the pressures of an expanded running time and to suggest that Christensen's story was suited to be told in 20 minutes rather than 100. But the problem, when you watch both movies, has little to do with the original story—great films have been made from far thinner premises—and more to do with which aspects Christensen chose to expand.

There are many elements in Curfew that actually benefited from a sense of mystery, first among them a moment when Sophia gets up to dance at the bowling alley and the scene around her turns into an impromptu music video. In Before I Disappear, this is explained, after a fashion; it becomes one of Richie's many hallucinations, which are vaguely and inexplicably chalked up to the menopause pills he took.

An even larger problem is that Christensen chose to add a slew of new events to Before I Disappear, but did little to further develop his characters, about whom we learn little more than we did in Curfew's much shorter span. In both movies, Sophia is a stuck-up overachiever who softens up after a night with Richie, Maggie is a demanding mother with a tendency toward bad relationships, and Richie is a well-meaning loser whose life has been derailed by depression and drug addiction. Whatever details are added about Richie's love life and unfortunate upbringing are just that: details, not additional substance.

Before I Disappear is ultimately hampered not by a messy plot but by bland characters who, for the most part, don't so much talk to each other as they monologue at each other. That's true of new characters like Gideon and Bill, who rant about their businesses and the need for Richie's loyalty (sounding like discarded Elmore Leonard characters), and it's true of Richie and his repeatedly revised suicide note and the plaintive emotional speeches to his sister and niece.

It's a lot of new talk that goes along with a lot of new action, all of which provides a lot more to say if someone asks you about the events of Before I Disappear. But it does little to flesh out a response to the more important question of what the film is about. That matter remains as sketched-out here as it was in the film's original truncated form.