The Vanishing of Sydney Hall tells a somewhat J.D. Salinger-type story, which is interesting considering we’ve gotten more than a couple *actual* Salinger stories on screen in the last couple years. Logan Lerman plays Sydney Hall, a young man who achieves significant literary and personal success at an early age and then completely disappears from public view.
After a decade, someone is trying to find Hall because his books seem to offer the only clues to a string of recent arsons. The Searcher (Kyle Chandler) is looking for Hall to find answers, piecing together what few clues there are to track him down. It’s clear, though, that he doesn’t want to be found and will take great pains to maintain his privacy. The Searcher’s quest, though, provides insights into Hall’s past and what motivations drove him to write the book he’s famous for and then disappear.
There’s a definite beatnik-era vibe being evoked on the movie’s single poster, which shows Hall lounging with his writing notebook on top of an old boxcar. We’re meant to connect him through that with Salinger, Kerouac and others who created the myth of the troubled, solitary genius plagued by wanderlust and a disregard for society’s norms. “It’s all about beginnings” we’re told in the copy below the title, an allusion to the literary nature of the story, conveyed additionally through the pages blowing away from Hall in the breeze.
“Tell me if any of this sounds familiar,” The Searcher says as the trailer opens, the statement addressed to someone offscreen. He’s on the trail of someone who’s been burning copies of books inside of bookstores, someone he suspects to be the author himself. We get that The Searcher has been looking for Hall for years and seems to finally be making some headway. From there we cut back and forth from the present day search to Hall’s past both beginning the book and dealing with its remarkable, if controversial, success. He’s becoming increasingly paranoid, though, seeing things that may not be real.
Again, there are very strong connections to the Salinger mystique that aren’t exactly subtle here. But overall the trailer is trying to sell less a story about a troubled genius than a kind of investigative procedural, showing how The Searcher is turning over stones many people with motivations of their own would rather be undisturbed. The music certainly helps to create a strong sense of drama. Chandler really steals the show here with his hunched-over intensity while Elle Fanning, as Hall’s love interest, is criminally underused.
Online and Social
A24 just has a single page on its website for the movie that has a trailer, poster, cast/crew list and story synopsis. It also didn’t receive much support on the studio’s social network profiles, falling to the backburner because of the media attention given to other releases like Lady Bird, The Florida Project and other films.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nope, nothing here I’m aware of.
Media and Publicity
Not much on the publicity front, either. A few small interviews with Lerman and/or Fanning, but outside of the coverage of marketing materials that seems to be about it.
I wonder how much of the decision to, by all evidence, give this movie a lackluster marketing campaign was driven by a combination of the dearth of Salinger biopics that have come out recently as well as A24’s other, more high-profile releases. It’s as if the studio decided this is where they would cut back resources because they needed to be devoted elsewhere. I understand the decision if that’s the case, but the campaign certainly suffers from lack of attention.
As I said when discussing the trailer, though, there’s a decent drama that might be found here. It’s not all that original, but solid performances from Lerman and Chandler could make it worth seeing. It almost, though, seems like the kind of story that would have made a more interesting eight-part Netflix drama series than a single two-hour movie.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.