Tuesday, September 23, 2014

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM (2014)

Written & Directed by Ned Benson



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. Septemeber 16, 2014 3:10PM



"The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them" starts off with Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Connor (James McAvoy) sneaking out of a New York restaurant after not having money to pay the bill. In the afterglow of that thrilling adventure, this young couple, clearly in love, begin making out in a nearby park. The next moment we see Eleanor throwing herself off a bridge, trying to end her life.

What happened in between these two scenes is explored in this inspired but disjointed film by writer/director Ned Benson. We learn that a horrific event is the catalyst that frayed their once solid relationship. The couple being unable to cope with this tragedy together is what ultimately drives them apart.

After Eleanor is released from the hospital, she leaves her husband and moves back home with her family in the suburbs. The full house includes her French cliché of a mother (Gallic screen legend, Isabelle Huppert), serious Professor father (William Hurt), single-mother sister, Katy (Jess Wexler) and her young son.

Connor has no idea where his wife has ended up but desperate to locate her. Having to give up their apartment, Connor has temporarily moved in with his distant restaurateur father (Ciarán Hinds). He has followed in his father's footsteps but hasn't achieved the same level of success. Connor is struggling to keep his bar/cafe afloat but engaging in physical altercations with customers isn't great for business. His only real friend, Stuart (Bill Hader) works in the kitchen and at a loss on how to help his distressed buddy.

Eleanor (yes, she is named after that Beatles song which is explained in the film) decides to further her education and with her father's pull, enters an important course taught by his former colleague (the great Viola Davis). Connor has tracked down Eleanor and begins stalking her at the campus before getting the courage to approach his estranged wife. The reunion is less than jubilant but does break the ice that has the couple begin tentatively speaking.

The original concept of "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" is that there were two separate films subtitled "Him" and "Her" which covered the demise of the couple's relationship from each of their point of view. However, when Harvey Weinstein bought the films for distribution, he felt it would be better to combine the two films which lead to "Them". It's unlikely this was a smart move but you can have an opportunity to judge for yourself, if you desire, as "Him" and "Her"will both be released in October.

Back to "Them", we see fragments of  Eleanor and Connor each trying to move forward with their lives while looking back, hopeful, for some sort of reconciliation. While these scenes are well-written and superbly acted, we are left in the dark on a few of the important key events that occurred between these two; their everyday lives together, the actual break-up and dealing with the tragic circumstance. Any of these moments would have helped connect emotionally to what we are given to witness. Perhaps the individual films will shed more light and flesh out the issues between Eleanor and Connor, however this condensed version feels incomplete.

The supporting cast is really terrific and they all, surprisingly, get several opportunities to shine and strut their stuff. But the film belongs to Chastain and McAvoy, two magnetic screen personalities who complement each other quite nicely. The performers expertly capture their character's pain and melancholia as they strive to come out of the darkness and once again, find their light.

The consolidation of two separate stories to make "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them" doesn't seem to have helped improve the film. The elimination of that cinematic experiment only managed to make the film less focused and undistinguished. Despite the setback, this is still an admirable work filled with highly impressive performances.