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Toward the end of You Won’t Miss Me, Ry Russo-Young’s affecting case study of an exasperating New York scenester that is out this week on DVD, we catch a glimpse of an unorthodox audition. As the squirrelly director engages a room brimming with ambitious misanthropes, one of them is revealed to be Greta Gerwig (the DIY movie queen who has since ascended to higher ground) in a blink and you’ll miss her cameo. In another subtle in-joke, the smirking casting director is Joe Swanberg, the prolific director associated with the loosely defined micro-movement referred to as mumblecore of which Gerwig is a mainstay. The defining aesthetic of these films—largely plotless, made-on-the-cheap explorations of underemployed white 20-somethings—can be found in You Won’t Miss Me, but the film lacks the movement’s philosophical breeziness. Whereas Swanberg’s films like Hannah Takes the Stairs and Nights and Weekends explore the quirky romantic habits of the inarticulate, Russo-Young focuses on the histrionics of the emotionally unstable.
It’s a risky proposition to hinge a skeletal frame onto the shrugged shoulders of a disagreeable character, particularly for Stella Schnabel (daughter of artist/director Julian Schnabel) whose background brings an added layer of party-girl privilege to the role. Yet her unflinching portrayal not only makes You Won’t Miss Me surprisingly bearable but something approaching enjoyable, if not necessarily pleasant. We initially meet Shelly (Schnabel) as she dolls out defiant half-truths to an off-screen psychiatrist; she has been committed to an in-patient psych ward but is subsequently released. Relieved yet deflated, the audience is quickly swept up into the whirlwind of Shelly’s floating existence: awkward hookups, drug-fueled rants, and pathological oversharing. Sometimes these encounters end reasonably well; others end in self-loathing and tears.
As we become acquainted with Shelly, her swift release from the hospital comes as no surprise. She’s not mentally ill or not in the traditional sense, anyway. Her over-the-top behavior is indicative of any number of what the DSM-IV classifies as personality disorders, stubbornly reinforced patterns of maladaptive behaviors and thought processes. In less clinical language, she is compulsively unreasonable and destructive. Through skimpy dialogue, we glean that the people in Shelly’s life harbor a passing contempt for her, including a mother whose absence provides an unnecessarily pat explanation of her lashing out. During one particularly grueling scene, we bare witness to a tantrum in an Atlantic City hotel room so uncomfortable it had me running for some Lexapro. As difficult as it is to empathize with her mean-spirited confusion, Schnabel delivers a fearless performance, a hypnotic glimpse into the emptiness of indifference. Rarely does ennui feel so terrifying and alive.
You Won’t Miss Me is out on DVD this week via Factory 25.