Review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
PLOT: A married couple find themselves drifting apart after a tragic happening in their life. Both faced with different challenges, the two try and hold on to a relationship that might not be as strong as they once thought.
REVIEW: There is much to be appreciated from writer/director Ned Bensons THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM. The story of a marriage falling apart is a cold, yet occasionally moving romance. Who is right and who is wrong is not the issue here. And while this two hour version has crafted a far different narrative from the three hour or two-part HIM and HER, depending on how you watch it - version which premiered at TIFF (see Chris Bumbrays TIFF review here), it remains a balanced examination. Here you do not witness the same scenes from different perspectives featured in the HIM and HER edition. This is THEIR story through and through. With this, the filmmaker manages to create an account that is still quite unique, occasionally profound and a little frustrating.
When we first meet Conor Ludlow (James McAvoy) and Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain), they embarrassingly are unable to pay for an extravagant meal they have enjoyed at a posh restaurant. They both run away with a romantic bliss ditching their restaurant bill. This is one of the rare times we see the happier moments the couple shared. The very next time we see Eleanor - named after The Beatles song - she is trying to commit suicide. After her attempt is unsuccessful, she shuts Conor out of her life and finds shelter with her mother and father (Isabelle Huppert and William Hurt). She is offered further support from her loving sister Katy (Jess Weixler) and her young son (Wyatt Ralff).
After Eleanor cuts off all connections to her husband, we discover that Conor has a myriad of troubles aside from the collapse of his personal life. He finds himself confused by her behavior, so much so that when he finally discovers her whereabouts he follows her in secret. In addition to the collapsing marriage, he owns a failing restaurant with his best friend Stuart (Bill Hader), where a customer is rarely seen. Upon the realization that Eleanor may not be coming back and his business is near its end, Conor seeks support from his distant father, the successful restaurateur Spencer Ludlow (Ciarán Hinds). As the story unfolds and we learn the painful secret that separated Conor and Eleanor, it is clear that both are dealing with a heartbreaking loss in their own individual way.
Having only seen THEM, it is hard to say whether or not the two other versions of HIM and HER create more of an impact. Yet within the context of one story, Benson smartly reveals very little early on. The hurt that consumes one, avoided by the other, is not fully revealed until well near the end. The script is filled with subtle hints at what is to come and how exactly their lives will be impacted in an interesting yet slightly tedious way. Even still, some of my favorite moments are the scenes where the two were seemingly, deep in love. The way McAvoy looked at Chastain, and the joy he finds in her is infectious. This playful nature is only explored in two or three scenes, leaving most of the narrative to their misfortune. Perhaps more of this was featured in the previous two films leaving me with a curiosity to watch both.
The way the script unveils all the romantic eccentricities of the couple and those around them is absorbing yet can be frustratingly aloof. There is slight repetition in the revelations that are ultimately explored. In many ways this works, as I found myself continually wanting to know more, and to understand the reasons behind their motivations. At one point early on, Eleanors mother takes down a picture hanging on the wall before her daughter can see it. What is in the picture is not revealed until much later. The visual clues as to what is yet to come are nearly too well-placed to be fully effective maybe worth another viewing.
The dialogue that is spoken tends to drift into what one of the characters calls wax poetic. This begins to feel uncomfortably calculated. There is nary a breakdown of emotion in-between the poetry that can be found in what could have been a series of overly passionate scenes. At times it would have been a relief to see HIM or HER truly let their guard down and fall into unadulterated sadness. And yes, there is a ton to be sad about here.
As cold as this story can sometimes be, you simply cant take your eyes off of this talented cast. McAvoy and Chastain are stunning together. If only we could have seen the romance bloom just a little bit more. The chemistry they have together is terrific even if for much of the movie they are kept apart. It is understandable as this is a relationship gone wrong, yet it is so very satisfying to watch them together. Both actors continue to create challenging and multidimensional characters in their careers, and it would be hard to imagine anybody else bringing Eleanor and Conor to life quite like they do.
Other bright spots in this exceptional cast include Viola Davis as a professor who befriends Eleanor, Hader as Conors best pal and the lovely Jess Weixler who brings the perfect amount of sympathy and concern to Katy. Hurt, Huppert and Hinds all offer solid support as parents going through their own frustrations. Hurt is especially superb when he gives a wonderful monologue near the end of the film. It may be the single most heartbreaking scene in the film.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR: THEM is a deliberately paced study of heartbreak and the aftermath of loss. With a script that is at times haunting, yet occasionally meandering, it is just shy of the emotional powerhouse it could have been. Thankfully, both McAvoy and Chastain are outstandingly well cast and bring it all to life. This is a film which may be more appreciated than enjoyed. In the end, the story of HIM and HER resonated on a very personal level. It may not be a perfect look at romance gone wrong, yet it is a somber and memorable one.