In Shawn Christensen's knotty mystery The Vanishing of Sidney Hall, a precocious writer courts tragedy by penning a roman a clef in which he conflates literary honesty with explicit, masturbatory confessionals that somehow ensnare the heart of the manic pixie dream girl next door (Elle Fanning). After exploiting a classmate's death to pen a Pulitzer-nominated novel, Sidney (Logan Lerman) finds his life spinning out of control. Sidney's guilt -- about another fatal incident, his middling creative output and his love life, of course -- gets the better of him and he goes off the map. Little does Sidney know, his attempts to disappear are being closely watched.
Director Christensen favors dreamy shots of dusty libraries and desert horizons that, while beautiful, don't make up for the contrived plot driving Sidney toward his destiny. The talented cast (including Michelle Monaghan, Nathan Lane and the ever-charming Kyle Chandler) does what it can with Christensen and Jason Dolan's time-hopping script, but it's beyond them to save absurd drivel like, "We'll sleep on the lay of the land." The Vanishing of Sidney Hall fails to give its characters depth, leaving viewers with little more than a shallow white guy troubled by his fame.