Filmed in 45 days and originally meant to be a 3-hour double film in two different perspectives, Him and Her, director Ned Benson makes his directorial debut with The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby as neither a film about him or her, but about Them. It’s the third film of what was originally meant to be two, so we’re kind of getting the tail-end of it first before being allowed the full experience  of the original two films. And the verdict is good, not great, could be better, but good enough, even when it does make you look forward to the other two movies, if only to get the bigger picture.

The film starts off with a scene that will immediately make you like Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and Conor (James McAvoy) as a couple. It’s one of those scenes that’s filled with so much happiness that you immediately know it’s not going to last the rest of the movie. Some time later, we’re not sure how long, we see Eleanor riding her bike across the Brooklyn Bridge looking hauntingly sad and intent on something. As soon as she ditches her bike, you know exactly what her intent is.

And just like that, Eleanor disappears from Conor’s life. She ends up staying with her parents and sister after her attempted suicide while Conor stays in the city, giving her space but at the same time desperate for communication. Eleanor takes classes taught by a bitter professor (Viola Davis), Conor tries to keep his restaurant afloat while using his friend (Bill Hader) as a verbal punching bag. The story essentially follows them as they try to carry on with their lives after a personal tragedy, both seeking sanctuary and grieving in different ways.

The color palette Benson uses highlights the differences between the lead characters. For Chastain, the grieving and disillusioned wife, her hair the only thing lending itself to any livelihood left to her. While McAvoy has muted and dark colors following him around but they aren’t as faded as the ones used for Chastain. Benson’s three-film story is ambitious in the way he chooses to tell it and the fact that he goes the extra mile to give us all points of view is impressive on its own.

Ted Benson, without using a lot of tiresome dialogue-heavy scenes, lays out the story and tries to balance the two very different points of view of two people who were once a strong couple and are now falling apart at the seams. There are a lot of quiet moments and a lot of scenes that don’t feel complete. While the picture Benson paints is there and you can see it, a lot is still hidden, like the sun being teased from behind a group of clouds.

The emotion in the film is palpable, but while it’s pretty easy to understand Conor’s actions, it’s a little harder to grasp Eleanor as a person. The film as a whole can stand on its own, though the foundation is a little wobbly. If you watch it, you might deeply feel with the characters and what they’re going through, or you might feel like you’re not getting everything because it’s not fully developed. The supporting characters are far too supporting, although Benson has promised that they’re more three-dimensional in the original two films.

Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy have fantastic chemistry, so much so, that you can almost forgive the fact that there’s only so much we get of their characters. When they’re apart, they’re great, but when they’re together we realize that we’re actually getting something more and something deeper about them and the reason behind their sudden inability to connect. William Hurt, Viola Davis, and Bill Hader share good moments with the lead characters, but, especially in the case of Davis, wish there was more of them.

While The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them is chock-full of emotional beats and good dramatic moments, the film feels incomplete in its character development and unfinished in Benson’s overall vision for his story. It does give us grief in its many performances and doles out great performances from its cast, but especially in the case of Chastain’s character, doesn’t give us the whole picture, and because of this goes from being potentially great to just good. I’ll reserve judgement until the other two films have been released, but on its own, this installment is only a piece of the puzzle.

Release Date: September 19, 2014 | Director and screenwriter: Ned Benson | Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Viola Davis, William Hurt, Bill Hader, Nina Arianda, Jess Weixler, Isabelle Huppert | Genre: Drama | MPAA Rating: R for language

 

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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