The 400-Word-Review: Eleanor Rigby
By Sean Collier
September 23, 2014
I wish I had known less about The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them before walking into the theater. Specifically, I wish I had escaped the feeling that I was seeing the wrong version of the movie.
Eleanor Rigby, which has little to do with the Beatles song, is actually a collection of three films. The first two, with the post-colon specifiers Him and Her, tell the same story from two perspectives. Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) has attempted suicide after the death of her young child, leaving her to recover under her family’s care. Her isolation makes it easier to hide from her estranged husband, Conor (James McAvoy), who wants to repair their marriage but is also struggling to keep the bar he owns afloat. Him tells the story from Conor’s viewpoint, while Her follows Eleanor.
The version I saw, with the subtitle Them, is a compromise. Apparently at the behest of The Weinstein Company, who is distributing the film, writer/director Ned Benson mashed his two films into one; this was almost certainly a marketing consideration. Benson, working on a feature-length project for the first time, can be forgiven for ceding control in exchange for exposure (even if you’re already judging him harshly for the pretension of the overall enterprise).
What might’ve been gained in seeing Him and Her rather than Them — see what I mean about the pretension? — is intrigue, which is sorely lacking from this version. While Chastain and McAvoy giving compelling, gripping life to these troubled characters, I’ll bet it would’ve been more interesting to wonder what was going on with the other half of the equation; Them jumps lazily back and forth between the two, losing any sense of drive and drama in the process.
And for an endlessly talkative movie, little is revealed. The characters are constantly discussing their states of mind, their motivations, their intentions — but never what happened, what’s going to happen, or what they need from one another. The entire operation is talk, but key parts of this story are kept from us; most distressingly, we never learn how the child died.
Benson is better with the camera than the pen, and casts a weary, rain-soaked mood throughout the picture. And if nothing else, Eleanor Rigby has the incredible gifts of Chastain; if you must listen to a performer talk about nothing for two hours, she’s the one to pick.
My Rating: 6/10