Synopsis: One couple’s story as they try to reclaim the life and love they once knew and pick up the pieces of a past that may be too far gone.
Stars: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, William Hurt, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, Isabelle Huppert, Jess Weixler, Ciarán Hinds
Director: Ned Benson
Running Length: 122 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: I’m going to try my hardest to get through this review without working in a quote from The Beatles song featured in the title of this brittle drama. However, I may wind up resorting to cheap references to talking about “all the lonely people” and questioning “where do they all come from?” because aside from two strong performances from the leads, there’s not a whole lot more to discuss.
Originally filmed and intended to be released as two movies told from the male and female perspective of a crumbling marriage, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby feels familiar from the get-go. There’s a mystery surrounding why our titular character (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty) has fled her marriage to Conor (James McAvoy, Trance) and returned home to mommy, daddy, and single-mom sis but Ned Benson’s script isn’t malleable enough to allow Chastain and McAvoy to rise above some overly dramatic sequences that feel like scenes out of a training video on grief counseling.
I’m growing less enamored with Chastain as I see more of her work. After scoring so big in 2011 & 2012 with a slew of memorable roles (like The Help, Lawless, Mama, and The Tree of Life), she’s now seemed to have slipped into that groove of making emotion filled movies as she waits on her next Oscar nomination. McAvoy. too, doesn’t seem all that challenged by the material, largely letting Benson’s cliché set-ups win out over the actors usually interesting instinct. It was a brilliant choice to pair Isabelle Huppert (Dead Man Down) and William Hurt (The Host) as Chastain’s parents because I actually believed they produced this character…but Huppert is stuck with a lot of out of the blue observances meant to be revelatory but wind up as mere devices to explain where some of Eleanor’s hurt comes from. Speaking of hurt, Hurt takes on another soft-spoken sage seemingly capable of one quizzical facial expression that indicates he’s just seen a sockeye salmon driving a dune buggy wearing a Versace dress. Then there’s Viola Davis (Beautiful Creatures) as a grumpy college professor and colleague of Hurt’s that takes a liking to Chastain after she audits her class. Davis is as strong an actor as they come, but her performance here is so ice cold that it seems impossible someone like Eleanor could melt her.
Perhaps editing the two movies into one damaged the overall effect Benson was going for in showing there are two sides to every argument and some arguments are more interesting than others. The whole central conceit of the film was (and this may be a minor spoiler) done better in Rabbit Hole, providing nearly the exact same set-up but arriving at its final destination with its characters in row…rather than leaving them in the dust as Benson’s writing and direction is often wont to do.