It seems that a straight love-themed drama is hard to come in Hollywood. Instead we see romance as part of another genre, i.e. romantic comedy, romantic thriller, romantic sci-fi and so on. It’s even more rare to see a love story in a three-film format, not a trilogy mind-you, but the same story told from three different perspective [as you can read in my spotlight here] where director Ned Besson shot three films from his and her perspective, then created a third – more marketable – version, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them.
So who’s miss Eleanor Rigby? You might be inclined to think she ‘disappears’ in the same sense as Gone Girl, but no that’s not the case here. But the title makes sense as the film progresses, which is unfolding in an unhurried pace that is far from boring. It opens with a gorgeous young couple, Eleanor and Conor, running off without paying their bill at a restaurant. It’s apparent the two are blissfully in love, which makes you wonder all the more what happen to such a seemingly jubilant marriage. Besson didn’t immediately fill in everything about the incident that trigger the relationship’s collapse, which can be at times frustrating but it also made me appreciate the journey with the characters.
I read afterwards that Besson apparently had a relationship with the lead actress, Jessica Chastain, and that in a way the story is somewhat biographical. Perhaps that’s why I think Chastain is so perfect in the role, though I think she would be anyway without their history. She’s the kind of actress whose got such a captivating screen presence, both strong and vulnerable, as well as being able to remain likable even if her character isn’t always so. In fact, at times I feel like perhaps she’s being unreasonable. What could be so horrible that made her decide to take such drastic measures? I feel that Eleanor chooses to drown in her own grief despite being surrounded by such a supportive family, which I think is still a privilege as not many people would have such a privilege. Yet I couldn’t dislike her and I attribute that to Chastain’s soulful performance.
On the other side is James McAvoy as Conor, the *jilted* husband who tries to win her back. McAvoy is such a capable actor, I always think that given his resemblance to Gerard Butler, the two could be brothers, but he’s the kind of performer I wish Butler could be. McAvoy could juggle big-budget Summer movies like X-Men Days of Future Past, in an iconic role no less, yet he can still *disappear* [pardon the pun] into an entirely different role here. Like Eleanor, Conor is a flawed character who struggles with his crumbling marriage as well as his frosty relationship with his dad. I’d have to say I prefer McAvoy in dramatic fares and I hope he does more stuff like this where he plays a regular guy.
I feel that under less capable hands, both Conor & Eleanor might not have been as captivating nor as convincing in conveying deep emotional heartbreak. Even in quieter moments, both actors can hold your attention and they definitely get you involved in their story. It definitely helps having a solid supporting cast, I especially like Viola Davis as a college professor who became Eleanor’s unlikely confidant, as well as Ciaran Hinds & William Hurt as the father of Conor & Elinor, respectively. Bill Hader provides somewhat of a comic relief as McAvoy’s BFF. He’s ok but I feel that their scenes felt too much like a traditional *ingredient* of a typical rom-com, so it feels like a weak link in an otherwise unconventional drama.
It’s a small quibble though, the film does a lot of things right in that it really got you involved in the characters’ journey. As I’ve been married for some time to my college sweetheart, it definitely made me think about what I’d do if this circumstance were to happen to me. There is a moment in their apartment where barely any word is spoken, but it was such a heart-wrenching and delicate moment between the two. Yet I don’t feel manipulated into feeling something that’s superficial, there’s no sweeping music to tug your heartstrings, it was all the result of being invested in the story. That said, the music/songs are quite enjoyable and fit the theme of the film nicely. As I mentioned before, I love that Besson took his time to reveal the incident that propel the story. He give you some subtle hints throughout so you can take a guess what happens but the details remain open-ended.
Overall I’m impressed by Besson’s feature film debut, and applaud him for trying something different w/ the format. I like how intimate and personal this story feels, brought out by authentic and compelling performances of the two main actors. The cinematography of NYC is gorgeous and it shows a warm, even personal side of the city that complements the story. I’d be inclined to check out the His/Her version when they’re out on rental, that’d give me more insight into both characters and their story. It’s too bad that reportedly the film didn’t do well at all at the box office (per The Wrap) as I’d love more people to see this film. I was hoping that Besson, as well as McAvoy & Chastain get some nominations come award season, but that seems unlikely. In any case, I highly recommend this if you’re in the mood for a character-driven drama with splendid performances.
Thoughts on this one? If you have seen it, I’d love to hear what you think.