Ned Bensonís ambitious debut feature, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, aims to be a serious look at how a coupleís inability to communicate after a tragedy leads to different perceptions about their relationship. Itís beautifully photographed and sensitively acted, but the glacial pace and somnambulant conversations keep the viewer at armís length, even when the film wears its heart on its sleeve.
The movie opens with Conor (James McAvoy) and Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) playfully fleeing from a restaurant without paying, falling into each othersí arms after sprinting away from the angry waiter, and him telling her to be careful with his heart because he only has one. In the next scene, Eleanor is trying to kill herself by jumping off of a bridge. She later moves back in with her parents (William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert) and attempts to put her life together, in part by attending a college class taught by Professor Friedman (Viola Davis), a colleague of her fatherís.
She seemingly wants no contact from Conor, who is nursing his broken heart with the help of his best friend and business partner Stuart (Bill Hader), while at the same time navigating his complicated relationship with his father (Ciaran Hinds). Conor eventually begins following Eleanor, and tries his best to contact her so that they can salvage, or at least make peace with, their relationship.
Benson has fashioned a fragile, delicate movie that matches the emotional state of Conor and Eleanor; almost every scene feels like itís designed so that one of the characters will end up weeping silently. However, the director is committed to avoiding operatic melodrama. The elliptical storytelling -- we donít find out the details of what happened between the couple until halfway through -- and the deliberate line readings and editing rhythms work to keep the movie from becoming a soap opera.
By keeping everything so quietly controlled, however, Benson makes the picture feel like itís on antidepressants; the whole thing is one long flatline that never varies in momentum or emotion. Conversations are edited so that long, weighty pauses creep in between people speaking, and the effect is more likely to induce sleep than draw you into the charactersí pain. The song that plays over the would-be devastating final shot features an ambient, droning composition and a high-voiced female singer gently delivering the lyrics, and that soundtrack choice perfectly captures the movieís goals and reveals its flaws.
Itís a shame that the film wastes such fine performances. McAvoy, whose character at least has an active goal in wanting to get back together with Eleanor, is the most engaging presence; he makes sure that Conorís eyes remain perpetually sad. Meanwhile, Jessica Chastain has always been able to play someone on the edge of emotional collapse without resorting to histrionics. As good as they are, though, the unchanging tone undercuts our ability to relate to them. Any individual scene works, but watching one agonizingly slow exchange after another for two hours is infuriatingly dull.
Interestingly, this movie was stitched together from two shorter works: one that focused on the relationship from Conorís point of view, the other from Eleanorís. Regardless of how well those films played, this version of the story is a clear example of a first-time director committed to doing something a very specific way, regardless of whether thatís best for the movie. Benson is clearly a talented crafter of images, and heís good with actors -- hopefully his sophomore feature will be better than this.
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- Released: 2014
- Rating: NR
- Review: Ned Bensonís ambitious debut feature, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, aims to be a serious look at how a coupleís inability to communicate after a tragedy leads to different perceptions about their relationship. Itís beautifully photographed and… (more)