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Eleanor Rigby Not a Feel-Good Film, but a Film That Makes Us Feel

<i>Eleanor Rigby</i> Not a Feel-Good Film, but a Film That Makes Us Feel

DVD Release Date: February 3, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: September 12, 2014 (limited) September 26, 2014 (expanded)
Rating: R (language)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 122 min.
Director: Ned Benson
Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Nina Arianda, Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Ciarån Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt

When someone shares a name with what might be the most depressing Beatles song, it's not exactly surprising when her life story is more of a tragedy than a comedy. And in what's easily one of the best performances of the year, Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) is absolutely dazzling as the titular character in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, a lonely person figuring out where she belongs after the collapse of her marriage.

Before things go very wrong for Eleanor and Conor (James McAvoy, X-Men: Days of Future Past), we're offered a brief glimpse of happier days, namely a date night at a fancy Manhattan eatery when Conor asks Eleanor if she'd still love him if he couldn't pick up the check. Then with the waiter in hot pursuit, they make a run for it. It's this playfulness, and the undeniable chemistry between the leads, that makes this couple worth rooting for from the outset. Trouble is, it's the story that inevitably lets them down, which is why The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is never thoroughly satisfying despite having a lot working in its favor.

With a scattershot plot, pacing that’s a bit too languid and awkward transitions from scene to scene, it’s no wonder that The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby was originally conceived as two separate, his-and-her accounts of how things went sour. No doubt, offering two perspectives on similar events is an unconventional model that wouldn’t necessarily appeal to the masses; but these characters are so appealing that I, for one, would be willing to go the distance when The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her release later this year (this version is subtitled "Them").

As is, the film is stylish in the manner of a vibrant impressionist painting, but its lack of focus, not to mention the seemingly endless sadness, can't help wearing on the viewer after a while. For the bulk of the movie, we see how Eleanor and Conor navigate their new lives without each other.

After a failed suicide attempt, Eleanor is understandably fragile (and with just her eyes, Chastain makes us feel the pain and world weariness right there with her) when she moves back home with her parents (William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert). Not sure what her life’s next move is, Eleanor eventually signs up for classes at a local university where she meets a kindred spirit in Professor Friedman (a resplendent Viola Davis, who provides the necessary comic relief with her deadpan observations).

Meanwhile, Conor also reconnects with family when he bunks with his emotionally distant father (Ciarån Hinds). While they're both in the restaurant business with varying degrees of success (Conor is burning through money running his diner-challenged establishment, while his father is, well, legendary) and have both lost someone they love in excruciating fashion, they don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on much. This struggle between father and son adds another layer of palpable anguish to an already heart-wrenching storyline.

While the leads are certainly easy on the eyes, and Manhattan always makes for a spectacular cinematic backdrop, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby isn't an easy film to watch. But in what’s a huge credit to the level of acting talent involved, this disjointed, total gut-punch of a film still has its rewards.

Seeing a couple struggle through the most heartbreaking of circumstances is absolutely brutal, the total opposite of feel-good entertainment, but it's real nonetheless. While it may not stand the test of time like "Eleanor Rigby" the song, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby still makes you feel something, which is precisely what the best art, flaws and all, always does.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking, scenes in bars.
  • Language/Profanity: The full range of profanity is used throughout, particularly the “f” word. Some instances where God’s name is misused.
  • Sex/Nudity: Sex, and various sexual acts, are discussed. We see Conor and Eleanor have sex in a car (no nudity), plus there’s a lengthy scene where Eleanor is wearing a bra in lieu of a top. While separated from Eleanor (but still married), Conor is seduced by a fellow restaurant employee and eventually gives in to her advances (no nudity). This is something he deeply regrets, however, and even tells Eleanor as they’re on the verge of reconnecting sexually later on.
  • Violence/Thematic Material: A failed suicide attempt. Some fighting between a couple of guys who work in a restaurant. A man is hit by a taxi while crossing the street (he suffers minor injuries).
  • Adult Themes: The film explores the struggles of keeping a marriage together after the loss of a child and how someone moves forward after a suicide attempt.

Publication date: September 26, 2014