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'The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby' Is An Ambitious Failure
Note: This review is concerned only with the condensed version of The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby, subtitled Them. The reviewer has not yet seen the full-length Her/Him.
Almost exactly a year ago to the date, the feature-length debut from writer-dirtector Ned Benson, The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby, made waves at the Toronto International Film Festival for its bifurcated approach to the dissolution of a marriage between two hopelessly beautiful yet sad 30-something NYC hipsters (James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, who has never looked more beautiful after borrowing Margot Tenenbaum's emo-eyeliner get-up). Both halves, subtitled Her and Him, approached each characters' Sads from their own perspective, and Eleanor Rigby was praised for its ambitious approach to an otherwise standard-issue indie drama with many of the plaudits for Her and Chastain's performance. As the same old story goes, Harvey Scissorhands got his hands on the supposed 'work in progress' and we're left with what one would assume is a compromised vision.
Subtitled Them, this condensed version of Eleanor Rigby streamlines and intertwines the individual threads of Eleanor (Chastain) and Conor (McAvoy), leaving a strong cast working with a flimsy script to keep the film afloat. Conor and Eleanor's marriage is torn apart when a tragedy unseen in the film sends each of them on their own paths. Eleanor's difficulty with coping serves as the film's center. After a suicide attempt, she runs away to her parents (William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert), leaving behind Conor in the city to cope with her disappearance at the same time the gastropub he runs with a close friend (Bill Hader) goes under.
It's material that has been mined endlessly before, which is not a knock on Benson's film per se, but requires a certain level of insight or newness to keep from going stale. Many of the supporting cast are strong, particularly Viola Davis as a teacher/mentor to Eleanor, who takes her college course for no particular reason other than to find Herself. Eleanor Rigby is also certainly easy on the eyes. Aside from a cast chosen to look as pleasing as the models in a J. Crew summer catalog, Christopher Blauvelt's golden-hued cinematography makes the screen glow with all the New York romanticism of mid-career Woody Allen, even if this vision of the City is a white-American hipster fantasy.
If a delight for the eyes, Eleanor Rigby is grating on the mind. A series of greeting card-level platitudes standing in as dialogue about a scattershot range of themes from middle-class ennui to the perception of self can leave the viewer laughing at its insipid corniness. "Tragedy is a foreign country. We don't know how to talk to the natives," says Eleanor's father as words of support, whatever the hell it means. "It's a little Hallmark," says Conor after a few words of support from his father (Ciaran Hindis), as if that self-reflexive jab by the film itself excuses itself from its sins (it doesn't). If one were to be charitable, they could hold out hope that the condensing of Her and Him is what leaves the film feeling like a quote-a-day calendar, but Them makes it seem like there isn't much there in the first place.
The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Them opens tonight at the Arclight Hollywood and The Landmark in West L.A. Her/Him opens on October 10.