Director: Ned Benson
Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, William Hurt
Release Date: September 12th, 2014
Each year, no rx there are great films that despite everything they have going for them (an amazing cast, great writing, unique direction) are overlooked in theaters. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, which arrives today on Blu-Ray and DVD, was one of those films in 2014.
Like the film itself, the uniqueness of writer/director Ned Benson’s overall vision for the project was overlooked. Benson originally wanted to tell the story about a married couple’s painful separation in two distinct tales: one film would focus on the man’s perspective while the other would focus on the woman’s perspective. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them was a combination of both perspectives and arrived in theaters late last year (the other two movies are now extras on the DVD/Blu-Ray release).
Starring Jessica Chastain (delivering one of her best performances), the emotionally-charged drama focuses on a couple trying to move beyond a tragedy that changed their young lives. Chastain plays the title character, a woman who smiles infectiously in the opening scene but who, as we later realize, has become lost in her own melancholia. In an early scene, she moves aimlessly across a bridge but as the camera looks away, she jumps off of the bridge. It’s as if she didn’t want the camera to capture her frustrating anguish.
Eleanor eventually moves in with her open-minded parents (William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert) and her sister Katy (Jess Weixler), who has a son of her own (Wyatt Ralff). It’s undeniable that Eleanor’s family loves her but none of them know how to talk to Eleanor about her anguish. In honest but subtle ways, Benson shows that the family is trying to help Eleanor but they are hindered by the palpable fear that they will say or do the wrong thing.
James McAvoy, starring as Eleanor’s husband Conor, is lost in his own way. He’s not as desperate externally as Eleanor but internally, he’s forcing himself to move on even though he may not be ready.
He wanted normalcy once the tragedy occurred; she didn’t.
Benson’s script warmly lets the audience recognize the love that brought this couple together at the same time that the audience witnesses the pain that has driven them apart. In flashbacks, we see the couple in better times and we see their affection for one another stream out of their bodies. But it’s not only in flashbacks that we witness their story unfold.
It’s also on display when they are around other people and this film has a stellar cast of supporting players that make these characters come to life. McAvoy’s two closest allies in this story are his best friend Stuart (Bill Hader) and his guarded father Spencer (Ciarán Hinds), who lets Conor move in with him. It’s in the scenes with these two men that we see Conor come to life as he looks over his life and sees what’s there and what’s missing. Eleanor, meanwhile, attempts to step away from her own tragedy and finds it in the support of a tough Professor Friedman (Viola Davis).
Benson’s script is beautiful in the way that it balances the relationship at its center with a great group of supporting actors, who each add something to the story. Some of their lines of dialogue are so crisp and to-the-point that these characters (who are only in a few scenes each) stand out in this big story. When Friedman calls Chastain a member of a “generation of too-many-choices” or when she describes the break-up of her marriage simply with “He went soft. I stayed hard,” we see her as a three-dimensional person who isn’t just an unremarkable part of Eleanor’s story. She has her own stories to tell as well.
At one point early in the story, Eleanor’s father describes tragedy as a “foreign country.” He notes “We don’t know how to talk to the natives.” He’s right but in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, we see how it might look to visit that country, if only for a few hours.
Review by: John Hanlon