The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

Posted by Joel Copling on September 23, 2014

On one side of the psychological divide that serves as the wobbly foundation of the film to which they belong sits "her," Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain, excellent despite a rather waifish quality to her character that undermines the performance at every turn). Yes, she was named for the song, and yes, the story behind it involves a Meet Cute at a certain band's concert. She opens the film with a suicide attempt, suggesting she is depressed; she follows this with a detached sort of passive-aggressive behavior for the duration of Chastain's screen time, suggesting she might also suffer from bipolar disorder. She drops unceremoniously back into the lives of her parents (William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert, both excellent) and sister (Jess Weixler) exactly when it is probably least opportune for all involved. And she has used her father's connections to attend a class taught by one of his old friends, played with excellent weariness by Viola Davis (probably the film's highlight).

On the other side sits "him," Conor Ludlow (James McAvoy, strong but unable to escape his character's obvious and unapologetic flaws). He is Eleanor's husband, though they are separated (An awkwardly placed opening scene in which the two "dine-and-dash" from a restaurant, before cuddling on the grass of a nearby park). He's the owner of a dying restaurant that, as sous chef and friend Stuart (Bill Hader) puts it, has been called by the Village Voice a "bar with unambitious food." His mother is out of the picture, and his father (Ciaran Hinds) is reaping his reward for being an uninvolved father for so long. He's not exactly stable himself, suffering in a different way from the strife that affects both him and Eleanor.

The mystery of what plagues them is answered sometime halfway through "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them," but by then, Benson's mishandling of what makes each character tick has corroded our emotional investment in the narrative. The title and above quotations surrounding two pronouns, by the way, derive from an alternate cut that played a year ago at Toronto's prestigious film festival; the 201-minute cut opens a few weeks later than the publication of this review, and it will be curious to discover if it is more cohesive. As is, neither Eleanor nor Conor is offered much more than some flowery sentiments and a fractured love story to have their say. The movie is marred by an awkward gimmick done an even greater disservice by coming to the conclusion that less always equals more. At least there are some terrific performances and delirious long-takes, because what glues them all together is frustrating and uneven.

Film Information

Jessica Chastain (Eleanor Rigby), James McAvoy (Conor Ludlow), Isabelle Huppert (Mary Rigby), William Hurt (Julian Rigby), Jess Weixler (Katy Rigby), Ciaran Hinds (Spencer Ludlow), Viola Davis (Professor Friedman), Bill Hader (Stuart), Nina Arianda (Alexis).

Written and directed by Ned Benson.

Rated R (language, sexuality).

123 minutes.

Released in select cities on September 12, 2014.