The Vanishing of Sidney Hall

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
The Vanishing of Sidney Hall Movie Poster Image
Swearing, implied abuse in "tortured artist" drama.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 117 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Somewhat glamorizes the idea of the tortured artist/boozy writer.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A character who might have been a villain (for reasons revealed about two thirds of the way through the film) turns out to be a caring person. A teacher has the protagonist's best interests at heart.


In two cases, parents violently slap teen kids -- in one case, it's indicative of longstanding abuse; in another, it leads to a serious injury. Verbal accounts of statutory rape and of suspicion of child rape/incest. 


One sex scene/hookup starts (no nudity), then disappears into darkness. Sexual language, including graphic description of an affair.


Wide variety of profanity/strong language, from genital descriptions to "a--hole," "c-m," "f--k" (and variants), and "s--t" (and variants). 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Occasional smoking; a writer drinks a lot of whiskey.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Vanishing of Sidney Hall is a mature drama about a mysterious, reclusive writer that stars Logan Lerman, Elle Fanning, and Kyle Chandler. It's not appropriate for younger kids, given its strong language ("f--k," "s--t," and more) and heavy topics (including the suggestion of child rape), but it might appeal to older teens. Watch out for two instances of parents beating teens: One is used to indicate longstanding abuse, and one leads to disaster. There's also talk of suicide and a non-graphic scene in which it's suggested that two characters are having sex, as well as some smoking and drinking (the "boozy writer" stereotype comes into play).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBanana wannna September 9, 2019

Good drama deals with some heavy topics

Good and emotional drama contains strong language and deals with some very mature themes.This film is mature teens only!
Teen, 15 years old Written byLabrat2003 March 22, 2019

What's the story?

Mixing episodes from three parts of the main character's life, THE VANISHING OF SIDNEY HALL looks at the reasons behind the self-imposed exile of a famous writer (the titular Sidney, played by co-producer Logan Lerman). Teen Sidney is an outsider with talent who's encouraged by a kind teacher (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), attracted to mysterious neighbor Melody (Elle Fanning), and forging a sort-of friendship with bully/big man on campus Brett (Blake Jenner). Mid-20s Sidney is a wildly successful author whose Catcher in the Rye-like hit novel is getting him a fervent following. But he's also struggling with his marriage -- and possibly his sanity. At 30, Sidney is a drifter, burning his own books in stores and libraries around the country. And he's being tracked by a determined fellow (Kyle Chandler) with secrets of his own. 

Is it any good?

Despite a talented cast and appealing cinematography, this drama never manages to escape from under its heavy tortured artist/boozy writer world. Moving back and forth between the three timelines manages to keep things somewhat interesting, but The Vanishing of Sidney Hall does so in a heavy-handed enough way that it suggests the story's tragedies before they come together. And there are too many unanswered questions  -- "Why didn't they go to the police?" "Why did their relationship fail?" -- to set the story (and viewers) free. Things open promisingly enough, with teen Sidney reading his wildly inappropriate, Philip Roth-style story to his high school English class. But that boldness and wit is mostly talked about from then on, rather than shown. Where 2017's Rebel in the Rye offered a window into an artist's process, Vanishing intentionally keeps us at arm's length. Unfortunately, that means we have to rely on glowing accounts from fans to believe in Sidney's brilliance.

That's an important flaw, considering that Sidney's seminal work is inspired directly by the events of the first timeline. We never really understand his reaction to those events because we never learn the contents of the book. We know it inspires some scary behavior in deranged fans, but that's all. Why is it so powerful? What, in the end, did he say about those events when given the chance to tell the world? And his romance with Melody, clearly intended to be central to his motivations in the film, is given horribly short shrift: We never learn why they're in such dire straits in the second timeline. It's rather like La La Land: If this was the love of their lives, what could tear them apart? Those lingering, serious issues rob Vanishing of its potential power. We're left instead with gloomy-writer clichés (he uses a typewriter, which makes him ... more authentic?; as a teen, he has photos of the likes of Oscar Wilde pinned to his wall; and he drinks, drinks, drinks) rather than an authentic experience. What starts as hopefully a riff on the self-imposed exile of J.D. Salinger or perhaps Syd Barrett unfortunately never leaves the ground. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether stories like the one in The Vanishing of Sidney Hall glamorize the idea of the tortured artist/boozy writer. What are the consequences of that kind of message around drinking?

  • What else might Sidney and Brett have done, once their evidence was unusable? Was it immoral for them to stay silent? 

  • Why do you think Sidney and Melody's relationship was on the rocks? Why do you think the filmmakers never spelled it out? Is that effective storytelling, or did it leave you with unanswered questions? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate