A.D. Calvo’s “The Missing Girl” – 2015 Ithaca Film Review

Mort, the lonely owner of a small comics and collectibles shop, fantasizes about his hip young female clerk, Ellen, a woman who, like himself, is more in tune with American Splendor than Spider-Man. Though Ellen occasionally behaves toward the dweebish Mort in a teasingly flirtatious manner, he hesitates to follow-up, fearing – not unreasonably – that Ellen might merely be toying with him.  “Oh shit,” I thought, “another far-fetched, boner-inducing, schlubby male fantasy film that I’m sure to hate myself for falling victim to.”

Thankfully, I was wrong. “The Missing Girl” is not that kind of film at all.  Instead, it examines the delusions of this sad, yet likable man (Robert Longstreet; “Take Shelter”) as he becomes increasingly convinced that his lovely clerk (Alexia Rasmussen) – who fails to show up for work one morning – has been kidnapped, and perhaps killed.

Mort lives in the shadow of his father, who had been a popular police detective, and is convinced his dad would have been deeply disappointed in him for not following in his gumshoes. Thus, fueled by shame, as well as desire, Mort decides to solve the mystery of Ellen’s disappearance…and perhaps save her life.  His primary suspect is Skippy, a creep he knew back in high school (Eric Ladin; Boardwalk Empire) who recently returned to town. Evidence against Skippy includes an item belonging to Ellen found inside his car.  Plus, Skippy once dated a girl in high school who similarly vanished and was later found murdered. And wouldn’t you know it…Mort’s dad was the detective on that case, a case he failed to solve.

Sharing his suspicions with Franny (Sonja Sohn; The Wire), another high school associate now serving as a city police officer, Mort is frustrated when she does not take his concerns as seriously as he thinks she should.  This frustration soon sees Mort trespassing into Ellen’s home, taking her cat, and breaking into Skippy’s house in a desperate search for damning clues.

Both fun and thoughtful, it’s nearly impossible to dislike director A. D. Calvo’s “The Missing Girl.”  It’s also impossible to dislike the troubled Mort. “You’re a worthy guy,” he keeps having to tell himself throughout the film.  And indeed, ultimately he is.

“The Missing Girl” screened on Sat. Nov. 14 as part of the 2015 Ithaca International Fantastic Film Festival. For festival information, go to ithacafilmfestival.com.