Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, William Hurt, Viola Davis, Isabelle Huppert, Bill Hader, Ciaran Hinds, Jess Weixler
Directed By: Ned Benson
I’ve read some interesting thoughts on The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby because director Ned Benson originally had some big ideas. Much like how Boyhood tried something different this year, Benson’s original plan was to release Rigby as two different films: Her and Him. Instead, we get Them. He shot the same story from two different perspectives, and from what I read, it was a very interesting experience. I’m glad I didn’t have to watch the same film (essentially) back to back today, and I don’t have too many problems with the combined result, which is now called Them.
The first thing you should know about Rigby is that it is not a film that is set out to make you feel good, or make you happy. It’s a sometimes tough film to watch, often wrapped up in long establishing shots. Sure, you could edit this movie down to a shorter runtime, but that’s not really the point. What this movie has is truth, and that’s often hard to get rid of. All of my issues with this film seem to come back around to how honest the film felt, and how deeply Jessica Chastain was inside of her character.
Chastain has only been around for a few short years, bursting onto the scene in a handful of Oscar bait films in 2011, including Tree Of Life, The Help, and Take Shelter. She’s already been nominated twice, and has four potential performances this year that could get her her third (or fourth) nominations. She’s right at the top of the heap for Eleanor Rigby, but she still has Miss Julie, Interstellar, and A Most Violent Year, all three of which have Oscar buzz.
In Eleanor Rigby she plays a woman so incredibly broken by the loss of her child, and the subsequent demise of her relationship, that she is struggling to find her way back. Of course, everyone is walking on eggshells around her, except her husband (McAvoy), who gets left behind when she takes a much required break (I’ll avoid some spoilers). Rigby grows as a character, thanks to terrific performances from William Hurt as her father, Isabelle Huppert as her mother, and Viola Davis as a friend/mentor. Davis’s role is especially breathtaking because she plays a real person, not someone defined by tragedy or by her race. Her role could have been played by anyone, which makes it great that Davis was chosen for it. She reminded me a little of Robin Williams’s character in Good Will Hunting, a character whose sole purpose is to bring our main character the missing parts to her life.
As Conor, McAvoy is interestingly broken, but I can’t help but feel that his light pales in comparison to Chastain’s. He doesn’t grieve the way she does, and seems out of touch with why she left in the first place. One of my problems with the film is that he doesn’t seem to realize why she is where she is, and why he was left behind. It’s not clear at first, and you might think this is a relationship worth fighting for, but it’s not until the movie is over that you understand that some couples just need some time apart. Sometimes, something happens that is just so profound, that until two people can grow and find a way to move on, they can’t be together. McAvoy seems eluded by that concept, whereas Chastain seems to secretly know the key all along.
It feels like a long movie, and to be honest, the seven previews that preceded my viewing of Rigby didn’t help me feel like I was in the theatre for any reduced period of time. I’m not sure if I would have made many cuts, but just a few. I shouldn’t have been bored enough to check the time more than once (at best), but I must have looked like six or seven times. I appreciate what he was trying to do, but I appreciate it because Chastain is that brilliant, and the story that envelops her is important to her performance.
Had Chastain been a different actress, a lesser actress, this film would have fallen flat. The film itself isn’t interesting or compelling enough without the strong performance of Chastain to be memorable. It does boast a beautiful soundtrack/score, as well as some of the best cinematography I’ve seen this year. These shots are perfect, well thought out, and executed perfectly.
It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a film I’d recommend. Especially if you really love independent film. It doesn’t play like a mainstream movie, so the more you love indie film, the more you’ll enjoy The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby. Come for the beauty, stay for Jessica Chastain.
FINAL GRADE: B+