With the right amount of drug-fueled recklessness and wanton abandon, the gray area between adolescence and adulthood becomes a blur of hedonism and indifference. In retrospect, it’s a time of discovery; as it’s happening, it’s a muddled abstraction. Whatever it is — a heady mess of pleasure and disappointment, euphoria and heartbreak — sometimes it can’t be distilled down to anything substantial.
Writer-Director Ry Russo-Young’s You Wont Miss Me captures this elusive moment with a scattershot approach that is as disorienting as it is evocative. Shot in a fragmented collage of styles, the film is a layered portrait of Shelly (Stella Schnabel), a 23-year-old aspiring actress living alone in New York City who spends her nights racking up one-night-stands and invariably showing up to auditions with a hangover. Friends float in and out of the picture, peripheral to the story and to Shelly, as she drinks and screws and muses. The only recurring onscreen character is Simon (Simon O’Connor), a drug buddy and former lover, but even his appearances are random. Given the tone, the structure is fitting. Scenes from a revealing therapy session are interspersed throughout the film, and in her disjointed monologues, it becomes obvious that Shelly is wildly insecure and incapable of relating to anyone around her.
As far as stories about overeducated and underemployed college graduates are concerned, we must be close to the tipping point. There is now an entire genre dedicated to the existential crises of (mostly white) twenty-somethings in urban America. It’s relieving to see a deconstruction of post-adolescence in which the lead character isn’t an armchair philosopher sitting around an apartment bemoaning their privileged adulthood. And while You Wont Miss Me takes cues from the mumblecore films of Andrew Bujalski and Joe Swanberg — with a token Greta Gerwig cameo — its portrayal of Shelly as an unhinged party-chaser is more incisive than digressive. Schnabel channels the angst and vitriol of a self-destructive scenester with clarity and pathos. In a character-defining scene set in an Atlantic City hotel room, Shelly’s bitterness is unleashed as she excoriates her friend for being too passive with a rock star, projecting her persona in a sadistic manner that is both candid and contemptible. It’s a flawless impersonation of someone who believes in liberation but doesn’t understand restraint or consequence.
Although less immediate than the acts of debauchery, Shelly’s therapy sessions give the film much-needed balance. When trying to understand Shelly’s senseless behavior, the analyst contrasts mental illness with her own volition. It’s an important distinction for someone who lives impulsively, and in Shelly’s case, it is merely a stage. She’s reeling in stunted adolescence, where abuse is tolerated and foresight is nonexistent. And as much of a wreck as she is, she’s coming to terms with her identity while searching for meaning. Of course, there’s not much clarity or catharsis to be found in an interminable binge.
With a schizophrenic style that’s experimental yet accessible, You Wont Miss Me comes off as a low-budget music video, a gritty documentary, and a sordid reality show. It’s an absorbing study of youth in stasis with a chaotic center, and only a few grating clichés — including a superficial conversation about Morrissey and aimless slow-motion clips — undermine the film’s integrity. Fortunately, Schnabel’s exceptional performance overshadows the missteps.