Limitations can be a good thing: Recent Pratt graduate Shawn Christensen rode the simple but effective premise of his 19-minute 2012 short, “Curfew” (a suicidal New Yorker must look after his preppy niece for a night), all the way to the Oscar podium. For his feature-length debut, Christensen returns to the same material, expanding it with more atmosphere, darker bars and plenty of shouty over-emoting. The end result is disappointing: a stock-standard misery bath that manages to lose sight of the gently etched scrappiness that made “Curfew” such a standout. Even with writer-director-star Christensen commanding a bigger canvas, he can’t dodge indie sameness.
Some aspects of Before I Disappear are engaging enough in the moment. Dora the Explorer’s Fátima Ptacek brings cool disengagement to her portrayal of independent young Sophia, converting a role that could have easily gone gooey into something meatier. And if these NYC watering holes and bowling alleys feel like fantasy versions made exclusively for depressing surrogate-parent stories, they’re nonetheless beautifully captured by cinematographer Daniel Katz in a riot of rotting, blooming colors. Still, it’s hard to take hectoring parent Emmy Rossum seriously, and there’s too much troubling development tucked into a plot that already feels overextended. A surfeit of last-act explanations doesn’t help either.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf