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Monday
Dec072009

« In Which We Miss Her Despite Ourselves »

Definitely There

by ALEX CARNEVALE

You Wont Miss Me

dir. Ry Russo-Young

83 minutes

Ry Russo-Young is a graduate of Brooklyn Heights' famous Saint Ann's School. Despite this evident handicap she has become something of a talented director. After her recent film, You Wont Miss Me, screened at the MoMa last month, her writing partner (Julian Schnabel's daughter Stella Schnabel) admitted that "it's hard to find a screenwriter." Russo-Young's collaboration with Stella may be overly improvised, but on the whole, You Wont Miss Me is compelling portrait of a mentally ill young woman who is not afraid to smoke, fuck, or sob in any situation.

Here the operatically beautiful Schnabel portrays Shelly Brown, a sometime actress who prances around New York as the victim or instigator of various domestic hijinks. Although she accepts charity from a junkie friend of hers, the filmmakers didn't bother to hide the character, like the actress behind it, comes from money. (Shelly calls her famous mom throughout the film.) Although Russo-Young and Schnabel might have made a film about the excesses of wealth, it is more fun for us and Shelly that she tries to get dishwashing work in a diner while wearing high heels and a red dress.

Mainly, though, Shelly goes out on auditions. They take place in the guise of directors (Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig, Aaron Katz, all of whom are used to consummating sly cameos in each other's films) effecting some of the more ridiculous audition processes you are likely to see. Since You Wont Miss Me is largely intended for the sort of people who may have seen the films of these directors, and since it is often easier to play actors than to play an actual character, these scenes are the hilarious highlight of the film.

When she's not working, Shelly is a hopeless amalgam of total innocence and tawdry experience. There is great danger in writing a helpless character. Everything seems a fait accompli to such a person, and the undimmed nature of the tragedy is at once unrealistic and hopeless. Yet Schnabel's performance is of such wild abandon in its finest moments that this inadequancy is usually forgiven during bizarre interludes where she rides on a motorcycle again to a song by someone who lives in Williamsburg.

As for the rest of the acting, Russo-Young has a mature eye for casting unusually in roles. Amazing Baby guitarist Simon O'Connor is excellent as Brown's best bro even if he's a little cartoonish compared to the rest of the retinue. Mostly, it's hard not to focus on Schnabel, especially since she is topless for most of the film's first hour and has redefined the use of cheekbones in the human face.

Ms. Russo-Young's full length debut Orphans was twice as mannered and it is a relief to find her holding back with such an over-the-top, frequently nude character piece. She actually reels herself in late in the film when she's not dubbing Schnabel's voice over a lesbian photo shoot. It's too bad The L Word went off the air as You Wont Miss Me probably would and should have guaranteed Russo-Young and Schnabel at least a multi-episode arc.

Last week, You Wont Miss Me won the Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You. Considering her mumbling peers are still floating around trying to reconstruct an aesthetic from reality, Russo-Young's movie is a bit of a broadside against the artistic uselessness she occasionally wants to champion. What sort of movies should a director make, if she can make any kind?

It is principally through ignoring this question that a working director can evolve best. Auteurs annoy everyone, and usually end up getting extradited to Switzerland. Working directors should focus on making magic out of unoriginal material, and Russo-Young has produced something knowing and unusual out of the same old mumblecore milieu. Unlike Schnabel's Shelly Brown, she is sure to be taken way too seriously from here on out.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here and twitters here.

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