Kyle's Career Filmstrip: TV Series and Movies

Jan 26, 2017

Sundance Film Review: ‘Sidney Hall’

'Sidney Hall' Review: Logan Lerman and
Sundance Film Festival

Shawn Christensen's sophomore feature squanders a cast of promising young performers.

There are few things more frustrating than a mystery without a satisfying conclusion, unless it’s a mystery that didn’t need to be a mystery in the first place. “Sidney Hall” strings its audience along on a tedious journey that runs out of steam long before reaching an embarrassingly overwrought finale. A cast of promising young talent, led by Logan Lerman and Elle Fanning, struggle with a messy script co-written by Jason Dolan and director Shawn Christensen (“Before I Disappear”), but this shouldn’t register as more than a blip in long careers.

We’re introduced to precocious protagonist Sidney (Lerman) as he reads aloud his sexually explicit story about a popular cheerleader to his high school English class. The teacher had assigned students to write about the meaning of life, and Sidney’s effort is masturbatory in more ways than one. The lurid introduction is played as a joke, but in retrospect also alerts the audience to the self-satisfied nature of the tale they’re about to see.

For some reason Christensen and Dolan have structured their narrative to crisscross between three stages of Sidney’s life: his teenage years as an aspiring writer, his 20s as a massively successful novelist battling personal demons, and his 30s as an aimless wanderer deliberately removed from society. It’s in those later years that he’s being tracked down by an unnamed detective (Kyle Chandler), who sets out to solve the film’s central mystery — what exactly happened to Sidney Hall.

The puzzle pieces slowly come together as the film follows each timeline chronologically. As Sidney is wooing the pretty girl across the street (Elle Fanning) in his teens, they’re on the brink of divorce in his 20s, and she’s nowhere to be found in his 30s. There’s also the parallel question of what became of the strapping jock (Blake Jenner) who befriends outcast Sidney in high school, and later haunts him like a ghost.

Even with three timelines to track and numerous peripheral characters — including Margaret Qualley as adult Sidney’s mistress, Michelle Monaghan as his chain-smoking mother, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as his sage mentor, and Nathan Lane as his quippy literary agent — “Sidney Hall” remains a slog that seems to lose momentum the more we learn about each stage in the hero’s life. Because everything is unfolding simultaneously it’s difficult to become fully invested in Sidney’s blossoming first love while we’re also asked to register the impact of his crumbling marriage and understand the full scope of his vagabond’s despair.

When the film finally reveals the grand tragedies that led Sidney to change so dramatically in each stage of his life the answers don’t click into place as some grand revelation, but play like cheats — both in the decision to withhold crucial information from the audience for so long, and in the cruel tricks the writers play on their characters. If Christensen had a stronger hold on the material he may have made a tearjerker, but the pointless nihilism overrides the evident sincerity of feeling.

Still, it’s easy to see why Lerman, a rising star who won plaudits at Sundance last year for “Indignation” and previously charmed in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” would’ve jumped at the title role (and signed on as executive producer). The opportunity to play a character at three stages in his life is certainly rare, even if the material rarely justifies the exercise. Oddly the 25-year-old thesp is most convincing when he’s playing both younger and older than his actual age, falling a bit flat when he’s tackling the superstar writer whose narcissism takes a toll on everyone around him.

It’s the exact opposite for 18-year-old Fanning, who is beguiling enough in the high school segments, but feels atypically out of her depth with the heavier developments of the grownup storyline. Among the supporting cast, Chandler is the significant standout in a role that initially feels like a watered down version of his “Bloodline” character, before emerging as something entirely different. He also brings out the best in Lerman, even though they share some of the film’s most ludicrous scenes together.

Sundance Film Review: 'Sidney Hall'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 25, 2017. Running time: 119 MIN.


A Super Crispy Entertainment presentation in association with Fuzzy Logic Pictures of a Jonathan Schwartz production. Produced by Jonathan Schwartz. Executive producers, Audrey Wilf, Zygi Wilf, Logan Lerman, Shawn Christensen. Co-producers, Jolian Blevins, Fielder Jewett.


Director: Shawn Christensen. Writers: Christensen, Jason Dolan. Camera (color, HD): Daniel Katz. Editor: Sabine Hoffman. Music: Darren Morze.


Logan Lerman, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Blake Jenner, Margaret Qualley, Michelle Monaghan, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nathan Lane, Darren Pettie, Janina Gavankar, Tim Blake Nelson.

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Jan 3, 2017

From Friday Night Lights and Bloodline to Manchester by the Sea, Chandler loves exploring the complex relationships on screen.

He's again taking part in an acclaimed award-season favorite this year as Joe Chandler, a Massachusetts father whose death is the catalyst for the drama of Kenneth Lonergan's heartbreaking Manchester by the Sea. While filming the final few episodes of Bloodline, Chandler spoke with about working with Lonergan and Casey Affleck, nailing a Boston accent, and his fervent desire to do more comedy.

ESQ: Congratulations on Manchester by the Sea—and also on doing such a fine job with a New England accent. Was tackling it a daunting process?

Kyle Chandler: I'll give you a three-letter answer: Yes. [Laughs] When I read the script, I loved everything about it. But in the back of my mind, through the entire process, I thought, [Whispers] "There's an accent. There's an accent. There's an accent." So yeah, it bothered me quite a bit. I won't say it didn't keep me up a few nights.

But the truth of the matter is, in the long run, we had a great, great dialogue coach. She was spectacular. I've never worked with anyone that specifically, and that in-depth. And Kenny [Lonergan] made sure that everyone had what they needed. That was one of my first requests, if I'm not mistaken—that I needed a dialect coach up there. I think she'd worked with Casey [Affleck] before, and probably Kenny; she's worked with the best in the business. She made it a lot of fun—she knew exactly what she was doing, she was very professional, and she really helped out a lot and made it very easy and comforting. But it did take a lot of work, I have to admit that.

Well, as a New England resident, I can tell you it worked.

Let's see how honest you are. Tell me the one word that I said that I never got right.

On the spot, I honestly can't remember any.

"Furniture." She never said I got that right, because I never did. It was the one word I could never figure out how to say. "Furniture."

Nonetheless, it was a great show. Kenny Lonergan is fantastic at what he does. He's a true gentleman, and he's obviously just so good at what he does. I don't know how he does it, and I don't know how writers in general do it, and what all their different processes are. But knowing him—he's such a quiet person, and he's so knowledgeable. He really has a take on the human psyche and heart, and he finds really great words for these people to say. It's just a wonderful script. For it to have turned out the way it did, I'm really, really, really happy for him, and for Casey and everyone else involved.
How did you initially get involved with the film? Did you seek it out, or did it come to you?

I was up in New York, and my manager, Cynthia Pett, called me. And also probably my agent at Gersh, Leslie Siebert—because they always call together. It's always like Christmas when they call. They said they were going to send me a script, and because Kenny is in New York, they just delivered a script. I haven't received a paper script in so long—because I live in Texas, everything's email. So I actually had paper!

I sat in my hotel room and read it, and it was very moving. And I read it again, and it was just as moving, if not more so. I called them back and said I'd love to meet with this guy, and I met Kenny the next day. I don't know if we initially reached out to him or he reached out to me, but it wasn't my doing. Still, however it worked out, I'm really, really fortunate that it turned out the way it did.

I love the movie, and I love the way it's done. I love the pace of it, and I love what's said when no one's talking. I love the music. I love everything about it. I just think he did such a great, specific job, and I think it's one of the better movies that I've ever been in. It's a great film, that's how I feel about it.

I've read, in prior interviews, about how important family is to you in real life. And following Friday Night Lights and Bloodline, Manchester is another drama that's very much about familial bonds, and how families stay together and split apart. Was that subject matter a prime reason for wanting to do the film?

Yeah. Actually, my real family life is even more important than my film family life. [Laughs] I know that sounds odd, but it's true.

It's about dynamics between people. People are so unpredictable. You can never understand what their motives are, even when they're explaining what their motives are. There's just so much out of every single person that you meet, every single day, that you don't know about, and which makes them who they really are. People are the best things to act with in the world. And when you get a writer like Kenny, who knows about people, you can create these paths for each one, and then they devolve in front of you, and you get to see what they're made of. You can't ask for anything more. You read [Manchester] and you're compelled—I mean, at least I am.

I love car explosions and races and all that stuff, too. But instead of driving a race car on screen, I'd rather have a complex conversation with someone. And here, he's asking me to play a character who knows he's going to die. Who knows he doesn't have much time left, and he's got to sort out his life with his brother and his son. A lot of what my character goes through happens off-screen, but I still get to fill that in as an actor. I still have this really rich character, that when I step in front of the camera, I've got all that to bring with me.
Then, when the camera rolls, you're just having so much fun. It's just so enjoyable playing those things, it just makes you warm all over.
Your character hovers over the action, since his death is the catalyst for the film's action. How do you prepare for a part like that—and, as you implied, did you create a larger backstory for Joe?

Most definitely. The deeper the backstory that you create for a character, the more options you can look for when you're on stage. Usually when you're on stage or location, you have a preconceived idea of what's going to happen. And then when you get to the stage or the set, you can pretty damn well be sure that 99 percent of what you preconceived would happen, won't be true. And you can also be pretty sure that 90 percent of the things you never expected to occur will be happening. Whether it's a train in the background, whether it's that a house is literally burning down on the street, and there are sirens. Or whether the actor or actress that you're working with is sick, or their hair is falling out—or who the hell knows?

So if you've got that past built up, you've got things to draw on. And also, you can just get rid of all that [backstory], because you have it, and you can take just a tiny piece of it. Or, you try to figure out what's just happened to the character moments before you come to this scene, and you can insert something new. Like, he just ran into his ex-wife, who said he's a son of a bitch, and now he's pissed off walking into this scene. No one has to know that's what you just put into your head, but it brings something new to the scene, and it brings something new to what you're doing. And it also brings something new to what the person across from you is doing. It just makes it fun.

Were there any such unexpected moments on Manchester?

You know, it's been a long time since we shot that. But whether they were physical or psychological, I'm positive that every day something came up, or there was something where you just came up with the silliest idea. It can be anything—like I'm going to walk in the door laughing this time. It just changes things. I guess those are tricks to help keep it fresh. And especially with a role like Joe, because he's not on screen really that much, they help.

This thing I'm doing now, Bloodline, it's a little more difficult, because you know so much about this character. You take him from scene to scene. So it's very hard to find things to change up. Like, it's hard to find comedy to do in Bloodline. I love comedy—I'd love to try to make things funny. It's damn near impossible! But I can go in and, if a scene is about one thing, I can pretend we're talking about something else, just to change it up. Try to find some new angles on it.
It's a lot of fun, and I love what I do. And it's all just a play.

One of the things that personally affected me about Manchester is that my father died when I was 19. And I know your father also passed away when you were young. Were you attracted to the film because it afforded you the opportunity to explore that sort of dynamic—albeit with you as the father who dies while his son is still a teen? Or, conversely, did that give you greater hesitation about tackling the part?

Well, if anything, it was absolutely not hesitation. I don't know if I even considered that, specifically, other than it just being part of who I am, and seeing that kid [played by newcomer Lucas Hedges] as myself when I was a kid. You were 19, and I was 14 when my pop passed away. I don't know if you ever got it, but I would have loved to have been able to have my dad put his arm around me and say, "Hey, you're a man now, let's go have a beer together." I never got that. So in the film, that kid—and me with him, as my son—obviously those things were there. The things that I'd be able to do with him, and the things that I'd never be able to do with him. That's some pretty sad stuff. But yeah, those are wonderful things to play.

And, I imagine, useful things to draw on, in those circumstances.

Oh yeah, definitely. Look, Friday Night Lights was the first time I'd ever done anything where I was married and had kids, and I just happened to be married and have kids. I mean, that stuff worked perfectly! [Laughs] Connie [Britton] and I knew exactly how to play it. And she loves comedy, and I love comedy, and we would try to find all the comedy that we could in that show. Then when it came to the kids, you know, I love the W.C. Fields type, so I'd try to follow that. And, of course, all the football players—they were all the age I was when my dad died. So that all just worked out in that way. I took a lot of joy out of all of that.
Now you're on Bloodline, which as you said is not necessarily what you'd consider a funny show…

No. [Laughs] Some people might, but not me.

I'm not sure I want to hang out with the people who find Bloodline really funny.

I think most of them are in jail.

I know the show has been renewed for a third season, and is then going to end. From a creative standpoint, is it helpful to know that the show is coming to a close, so you can figure out how to properly wrap it up? Friday Night Lights, for example, ended really well.

I'm not a writer, producer, director, creator, studio, or any of that stuff. But speaking as an actor, absolutely. I loved the fact that Friday Night Lights ended where it did, because it did end strong, and people might have wanted more of it. I think, and I hope, that this show will do the same thing. I hope, later on, people say, "Wow, why didn't they make more of these? What happens next?" And it just never leaves them. I like that idea a lot. I've spoken to Todd Kessler, who's leading the writing this third season, and I think he feels there's certainly a difference to knowing that you're ending it, so you get to sew things up. Creatively, as a writer, there must be a tremendous amount of benefits; I don't know what the negatives would be.

This has been a show that's been so great, because just like everything I've worked on lately, all of the people are just so talented and so collaborative. People really wanting opinions and wanting to share ideas and experiment in front of the cameras. It's so dynamic. It's been a great ride.
I don't know how my character ends up at the end of the year. I've made suggestions, but we've got six more episodes to go—we're almost done with four—and I'm having a really great time. It's been fantastic.

KCC:  To see some great pics, go here: