Cannes 2014: First Look At The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby
Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy's his-and-hers
Originally shown at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival as a two-part work-in-progress, Ned Benson's admirably ambitious directorial debut, The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby, saw its "Him" and "Her" cuts reworked into this single feature-length "Them" version due to hit US cinemas later this year. The result may not be a groundbreaking look at relationships, but what remains is an unusually delicate American drama, as Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and Conor (James McAvoy) struggle to reassemble their lives in the wake of tragedy.
Following her suicide attempt – which happens in the second scene, spoiler-phobes – Eleanor moves back in with her family (William Hurt's quietly compassionate father, Isabelle Huppert's wine-swilling mom, Jess Weixler's concerned sister) and decides to audit some local college courses taught by a hard-headed professor (Viola Davis, Chastain's co-star from The Help). Despite their years together, she cuts off all communication with struggling restaurateur Conor, who leans on his father (Ciarán Hinds) and friends (Bill Hader) for support.
It isn't long before we glean what it was exactly that has driven a wedge between these two, and Benson generally spares us the traditional hysterics of grief, allowing Chastain and McAvoy's well-tuned performances to keep us engaged. However, much as these characters seem stuck and uncertain, so does the film from time to time. Flashbacks are few and far between, depriving us of emotional peaks against which we can measure the valleys, and the intended catharsis is somewhat muted as a result.
Perhaps the separate cuts, which allow each lead to cast themselves in a new light depending on the given perspective, will pack a greater punch. "Them" exploits that novel dynamic to add welcome emotional complexity to each character, but this cut is ultimately devoid of any particular insight such an endeavor might have revealed in the first place.
By William Goss