This week writer/director Ry Russo-Young has her third feature in theaters, the film adaptation of Before I Fall. So this week we’re turning the clock back to review the campaign for her debut film.
You Won’t Miss Me debuted at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival (side note: I met her briefly there as this was the one year I went to Park City and she was the talk of the festival) to massive acclaim. The story follows Shelley Brown (Stella Schnabel) as a woman who’s just trying to live her life in New York City. That’s about the extent of the story as the movie is very simple in its technique, taking us inside Shelley’s life following her release from a psychiatric hospital and reenters the real world.
The poster’s main purpose is to show off Schnabel, and be extension the gritty, unfiltered and untouched look of the New York City she lives in. So this isn’t a nicely lit, artistic shot. Instead it looks like the kind of picture you’d delete for its fuzziness and lack of focus. But that’s the point that’s being conveyed, that this isn’t someone’s glamorous life that’s being portrayed but that of someone who could be anyone. The title treatment is the biggest, boldest part of the poster and below that are the movie’s festival credentials, which is the most influential card the campaign has in its deck.
When the trailer opens we hear Shelley is being let go from an institution because her condition isn’t serious enough to stay. Then we hear her talking about the disconnect between how she sees herself and how others see her, followed by a declaration about how at least she was honest about who she was. The line between reality and fantasy may be thin for her and the rest of the dialogue has multiple references to her being a kind of free spirit who falls in and out of love daily. Finally, it seems she has to be open to the world around her in order to be happy.
Again, the focus here is on the mood and style as much as it is about introducing us to Shelley. It’s her that we’re going to be asked to empathize and connect with, so it has to introduce her and present her as someone worth our time. On that front it succeeds pretty well.
But the point was never really to attract the average moviegoer. This movie and the campaign that supported it was more about turning out the kind of critics and serious film fans that had championed earlier auteurs Like Russo-Young and get them onboard her train. Everything here is focused on the positive buzz it got coming out of Sundance and get that same crowd to support the limited theatrical release.
It’s also worth nothing that, as I mentioned before, Russo-Young has only directed four theatrical releases. Without going too deeply into the subject, if she were man this debut feature alone would have earned her a shot at directing whatever franchise reboot was next on the studio agenda. As it is, though, she’s been able to make more personal movies and we’re all the richer, at least culturally, for that.