The adult failure and the go-getter kid. It’s a tale as old as time. From crummy forgetful 90s comedies like Uptown Girls, to critically acclaimed films that depict unlikely connections like Little Miss Sunshine (Dwayne and Frank are the epitome of opposites attract), the story line of “lets have some adult with a middle or quarter life crisis find themselves by hanging out with some uptight kid that needs to let lose). Not going to lie- That’s basically the outline of Before I Disappear, but it is not the blue print. Writer, director and lead Shawn Christensen had something bigger in mind, and it definitely shows.
Before I Disappear starts off quite simple: suicidal Richie (Shawn Christensen) is called up by his younger more successful single mother sister Maggie (Emmy Rossum) to go do her a favor and pick up her daughter Sophia (Fatima Pateck) while she deals with some “fucked up shit”. The two haven’t spoken in five years, and this favor comes just at the right time, seconds before Richie fully offs himself in the tub with a razor.
Red eyed, and with an attempt wound clumsily hidden underneath his sleeve, Richie goes to pick up his niece Sophia, a girl wonder who is skipping the sixth grade and must be home in time to study for her big test the next day. Richie, though, has more in his mind than some elementary test- Still drafting an appropriate suicide note made out to Vista, his dead girlfriend he can’t cope without, Richie is reminded even more of his gone love when he comes across a young lady who overdosed at the club he works at.
The young woman’s death is kept hushed hushed by the club owner Bill (Ron Perlman), who claims to be a father figure, when really he’s only interested in his heroin business. Richie later finds out, though, that the girl he found dead is actually the girlfriend of drug lord Gideon (Paul Wesley), who is also an employer of Richie, which leaves quite a dilemma for the kind poor soul: Should Richie wish his ass and tell the love-sick Gideon the love of his life is dead, news he’s had to endure once before? Lets just say that Richie is distracted half the time he’s with Sophia.
Sophia however pulls him away from depression, and into a world of tough love. Obviously, the two don’t hit it off well at first, especially since Maggie almost never talks about Richie, someone she’s kept Sophia away from. Richie understands he’s not the best person to have around, but as he continues the confusing night with Sophia-who has now been abandoned by her mother who’s been locked away for some embarrassing shit, as she’d have it-the two balance each other by slowly revealing their vulnerability. Sophia may seem like she might have it all, but what she is lacking is a father that doesn’t tell her she is a failed abortion during his weekend visits, and, well, Richie on the other hand is just looking for a reason to stay alive.
What makes Before I Disappear different from other indie movies about a guy looking for a reason not to off himself, is that Richie’s self hatred is truly understandable. Though we don’t need illusions of his girlfriend Vista every other 30 minutes to believe he is lonely as he claims, those extra details and his crazy illusions do help. He doesn’t look like a guy in search for himself; he gave up on that a while ago. Though kind hearted, Richie is a fuck up. He’s not someone who claims their a train wreck just because they can’t “give love a chance”- no, Richie looks very depressed. He owes money, contemplates suicide, and the passing of someone he loves makes total sense as to why he’d want to meet her now instead of later. Shawn Christensen isn’t pretending here- His pain is raw.
Before I Disappear was screened by SXSW and the Venice International Film Festival, where I’m sure they appreciated the film’s great soundtrack, but Before I Disappear is more than the usual mopey indie gimmicks- it is its own. Not embarrassed to admit this, but this movie actually made me tear up. Beautifully shot, and well written, Before I Disappear is an anthem for the real black sheep- not the ones whose Kickstarter isn’t gathering as much money as their more successful cousin. I mean the real ones that actually want to die.