The story of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a tale as old as Weinstein: Boy makes movie. Boy sells movie. Evil executive producer forces boy to cut his beloved movie into teeny tiny disjointed pieces. Movie is kinda crap. Fin.
After Ned Benson made this movie about a couple coping with tragedy, legend has it Jessica Chastain urged him to rewrite the entire script from her character’s point of view, which she felt was underdeveloped. And that’s how The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby became two movies TDOER: Him and TDOER: Her: two movies from two different perspectives on one set of events. But when the Weinstein company bought the movie out of Toronto last year, he insisted Benson comine them into TDOER: Them. Which is the movie currently playing in theaters. Because yes, a 4+ hour dramatic event in two installments is not a distribution team’s dream project. But this Them version we are left with lacks what sounds to be the entire point of the original films: a point of view. Instead, it is a series of disjointed scenes strung together tentatively held together by two powerful actors (and, not to skimp on due credit, a fantastic supporting cast, including WIlliam Hurt, Viola Davis, Isabelle Huppert, Bill Hader, and Ciaran Hinds). But the two most engaging parts of this movie are 1. James McAvoy’s oddly mouthy American accent and 2. Jessica Chastain’s saucy short haircut. If that sounds superficial it’s because that’s exactly what this movie is.
This is a film, ultimately, about grieving. The story follows a couple, Conor and Eleanor, who we first meet at the peak of their happiness, before quickly jumping ahead (à la Blue Valentine) an unknown number of years to their relationship aftermath. They are on the other side of an irreconcilable falling-out following a personal tragedy, each moving back in with their respective parents, grieving (or not) in their own ways, separately. But where Blue Valentine brilliantly leaves its audience to draw their own conclusions about how a relationship can turn so sour, Eleanor Rigby tries half-heartedly to lay out and solve its own mystery. It’s committed to telling a traditional story within this broken structure it’s created. And for a movie about grief and loss, the muddled handling of the characters and what has happened between them only ends up doing a disservice to the very serious issues they’re dealing with.
It is clear that there could have been — or used to be — something here. You can, at times, feel a dramatic current wanting to pull you down deeper into this story. But whether that deeper level got eaten away by production companies and marketing teams, or if it was never even there— either way, it is not present in this film. Him and Her are set for a very limited release next month, and if you have seven hours to dedicate, you can watch all three and see if there’s a better story in the whole product. But Benson sure wasn’t able to fit it all into just this one.