The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them (2014) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 122 min.
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, John Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, Bill Hader, Jess Weixler, Nina Arianda
Director: Ned Benson
Screenplay: Ned Benson
Review published September 24, 2014
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is the title of a project of three separate films that tell about the dissolution of a young marriage from three separate perspectives, one from the husband's, one from the wife's and one from both. This review has the secondary title of Them, so, of course, this us the one that tells is the straightforward story about how things went down. It had originally been released at TIFF in 2013 with just the Him and Her portions into one three-hour film. The Weinstein Company bought the rights to distribute, and had its first-time feature writer and director, Ned Benson, use both films in order to make one single two-hour piece, Them, with plans to release the Him and Her portions in a limited fashion about four weeks later.
James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past, First Class) plays Conor, a bar & restaurant owner in New York who has been bemoaning the fact that his wife has not only left him, but he doesn't even know where to begin to look for her in order to patch things up. Jessica Chastain (Mama, Zero Dark Thirty) is the wife, Eleanor, who has been suffering from severe depression and an attempt at suicide. Eventually, the two do meet up again, but neither knows just what steps to take, if any, to find the common ground they need to move forward, together, or if they even want to try.
Most of what we see are individual scenes of the couple decoupled, each trying to live from day to day with the pain and agony of a family tragedy and a lost soul mate. We do see happier times of their courtship and married life in a few key flashbacks, which further accentuate the heartbreak of two people who can't find a way to live together despite the fact that neither party did anything to deserve a break-up.
Beatles fans should note that, while the fact that one of the main characters shares a name with a famous song, the film does not draw explicit inspiration from the popular hit, except perhaps that it does deal with some 'lonely people'. Even those who aren't the lead characters have their own sets of relationship issues, some, like Eleanor's parents, just work them out in their own way. Others, like Eleanor's single-mom sister Katy (Weixler, Best Man Down) or Conor's friend and restaurant cook Stuart (Hader, They Came Together), just struggle to maintain a connection and string along more than one date at a time. Even Eleanor's mentor, professor Friedman (Davis, Get On Up) -- a friend to whom she can find a sense of respite, never telling her about her tragedy -- and Conor's divorced father Spencer (Hinds, Frozen), don't have it all worked out either, despite more years under their belt. It's a perpetual state of loneliness and regret around them, where two people who are living together can still feel a world apart emotionally.
Them is a bit of a bitter pill and a slow developer. This does often happen when we're introduced into the middle of a story in play, as it asks us to feel deeply for characters we haven't come to know just yet. Eventually, we do, and that's when it comes to life. It does take a while before the movie coalesces into something of deeper substance, but it does, thanks in large part to a couple of fantastic performances at the heart of the story. An impressive supporting cast certainly helps, but it's Chastain that truly does mesmerize in a couple of key scenes, with McAvoy in lock step with the emotional beat throughout. They both rise well above a script that could have used more work, especially in the way nearly every character repeats a line told to them by another character, as if there is poignancy in repetition.
By the end of this uneven but still haunting film, we begin to realize that, despite all of the family connections we may have or friends that come in and out of our lives, we all go through life in traumatic moments where we are utterly and completely alone, or so it feels. It's about two people who react differently to the same set of circumstances, with one wanting desperately for a return to how things used to be, while the other knows that they've changed far too much for things to ever be the same again.
©2014 Vince Leo