Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
Ned Benson's ambitious "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" is a movie with a flawed script made better by the presence of some talented individuals. Benson shot two pictures - "DOER: Her" and "DOER: Him," both of which will be released separately next month - about the dissolution of a marriage following the death of a child and has edited those two films together into one movie, "DOER: Them."

I have not seen the two separate films, which take the perspectives of the husband, Conor (James McAvoy), and wife, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain). And so it is possible that the two films do a better job of expanding the story of this couple, who are broken up at the film's beginning after their young son has died from an unexplained cause and eventually come to some sort of reconciliation. As it stands, this combined version is a pretty good movie with good performances from its cast that elevate the occasionally shaky material.

At the film's beginning, Eleanor attempts to jump off a bridge and ends up moving back to Connecticut with her father (William Hurt) and mother (Isabelle Huppert, whose contract must have stipulated that she never be without a glass of wine in hand) to try to get her life back on track. Her father suggests she take some classes at The New School, where she bonds with a spunky teacher (Viola Davis).

Meanwhile, Conor is having a rough time keeping his Manhattan dive bar/eatery afloat and is determined not to ask for assistance from his culinary genius father (Ciaran Hinds). It's unclear how much time has passed since Conor and Eleanor's relationship fell apart, but at one point Conor hears that his estranged wife is taking classes and he begins stalking her.

One of the problems with the film's script is that both characters - but especially Eleanor - are enigmas. We know hardly anything about them or their relationship prior to their son's death or even the circumstances of his passing. Much of what we see is how the couple handles their grief separately - Conor attempts to get back into the routine of work, while Eleanor aimlessly goes from one idea (school) to the next (traveling to Paris). Although we feel for the characters, it's more in the generic way we'd feel for anyone who has undergone such a tragedy and not because we know them very well.

That being said, the cast is pretty solid. Chastain brings to life her character as best she can, considering how vague Eleanor often is toward her family, while McAvoy does a nice job of balancing his character's anger with melancholy due to the loss of his relationship and disappointment as a result of his failing business. Hurt has a memorable scene when he discusses a day at the beach with Eleanor when she was a girl and both Huppert and Davis provide some strong supporting work.

So, I can recommend "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby," but with the caveat that I haven't seen the "Her" and "Him" films and I'm only basing this review on the edited "Them" version. And that version, while appropriately moody and well acted, has some flaws.

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