The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

Directed By: Ned Benson

Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Viola Davis, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, Jess Weixler, Bill Hader, Ciarán Hinds, Archie Panjabi, Katherine Waterston, and Nina Arianda

Companion films are in this year, at least for indie cinema.  Veteran filmmaker Lars von Trier was bent on releasing his steamy Nymphomaniac: Parts 1 and 2 to the world this spring.  Similarly, first-time director Ned Benson was bent on releasing twin films for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.  The only obstacle standing in these two filmmakers' way is the system.  Distributors have no interest in releasing two films with the same stars and related content back-to-back.  Given his clout, von Trier was able to overcome this obstacle (but not the ancillary obstacle of censorship).  Benson, on the other hand, was forced to consolidate The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby into one film, ThemHis and Her versions will make their way to theaters at a later date.  Because of this forced consolidation, I watched The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them with the understanding that some pieces could be missing.

Seven years ago, Connor Ludlow (James McAvoy) and Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain) found each other and fell deeply and passionately in love.  Skipping bills at restaurants and romantically splitting Twizzlers together, the couple was inseparable.  In the present, however, they couldn't be farther apart.  One sunny day in New York, Eleanor takes a stroll, stops at the bridge, and jumps to what should have been her death.  She miraculously survives, but the prognosis for her marriage with Connor remains in question.  Without any explanation to him, Eleanor moves back in with her parents Julian and Mary (William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert) and her sister Katy (Jess Weixler).  She goes back to school and takes a course with her father's colleague Professor Lillian Friedman (Viola Davis).

Meanwhile, Connor spends his days trying to keep his restaurant afloat.  With the help of his best friend and chef Stuart (Bill Hader), he tries to keep everything together and get through this rough patch.  Unfortunately, it's not working.  The restaurant is financially underwater, business has dried up, and Connor won't take any assistance from his father Spencer (Ciarán Hinds), a restaurateur who could help with this tough situation.  While this whirlwind tears his career asunder, Eleanor's disappearance rips his heart out.  His wife has inexplicably left him, and his marriage has essentially fallen apart.  He doesn't know where she is or what she's doing.  He's just haunted by the fact that she's gone.  As Eleanor evades her husband and Connor is tormented by the shadow of his missing wife, a past tragedy looms over the entire situation.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them is an intriguing, stylized exploration of one of the most unnatural tragedies this life has to offer.  It's a tender drama about falling out of love.  It's an exposé on the capricious nature of depression and suicide.  While Ned Benson has a bold idea to tackle all of these themes his very first time in the director's chair, he perhaps bites off a little more than he can chew.  The film features strong, nuanced performances from a stellar cast.  His pacing of the film and his stylistic flourishes enhance the drama.  Despite this forced consolidation of the His and Her companion pieces, Them has no continuity issues.  All that being said, there's something missing from The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby that should be apparent in all three versions.  The movie doesn't go anywhere.

As my synopsis of the film suggests, Eleanor and Connor are falling out of love as the plot progresses.  Accordingly, the film is somber in tone.  However, it's just a little too somber for my taste.  Because the film is about a marriage deteriorating in the face of tragedy, it doesn't go anywhere.  It doesn't build to anything.  Tragedy strikes.  The couple separates.  Their marriage gradually fades out of the picture.  The end.  There's no grand climactic moment where the remnants of their relationship explode.  In fact, this is a case of art imitating life a bit too much.  In most cases, couples facing this sort of existential crisis would go out with a whimper of this nature.  It's certainly realistic.  It's just not entertaining or engaging in any way.    Simply put, there's nothing to draw us into Benson's directorial debut.

As I mentioned, the actors deliver strong performances.  For his part as Connor Ludlow, James McAvoy gives us a character who tries to run away from the grief of his tragedy and embrace the mundane happenings of his life in order to move on.  For her part as the titular character Eleanor Rigby, Jessica Chastain gives us something quite different.  Deeply depressed, she wants to wallow in her grief and remember everything.  However, she opts to take the ultimate form of running away by trying to commit suicide.  For her part as Professor Lillian Friedman, Viola Davis gives us a woman hardened and embittered by her life.  She is a terrific companion for Chastain on screen who delivers quite a bit of humor through her caustic wit.  As Connor's best friend Stuart, Bill Hader delivers plenty of comic relief of a slightly different brand as well.  Lastly, veteran performers Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, and Ciarán Hinds all give McAvoy and Chastain varied parental figures offering words of wisdom befitting the big screen.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them is enjoyable.  It just doesn't achieve greatness in any way, shape, or form.  Ned Benson's first outing on the big screen gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc with this one.