Through masterful directing and powerful performances, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby presents a hell worth experiencing

The conventional love story is a genre that can be told a multitude of ways. Most of them are tales of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, a la When Harry Met Sally. Others are stories of romances that for some reason or another, can never be, like Titanic.

And then some are movies which focus on two people beyond their happily ever after, which make for some of the most powerful entries in the genre. Blue Valentine. Juno. Even Pixar’s Up. And now The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, written and directed by Ned Benson.

Rigby tells the story of Conor and Eleanor (yes she is named after that Eleanor Rigby) as they deal with the aftermath of what the audience can only assume was the fallout of their previous relationship, which we only get glimpses of throughout the film.

It should be noted that Benson originally made two films for Rigby, one from Conor’s perspective and one from Eleanor’s, which have received nothing but rave reviews at movie festivals since its debut. Benson made one film, edited together from his two films, for wide release, and consequently we have The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them. 

But in no way is it a lesser product than Benson’s duo of films. Rigby is one of the most brutally honest and bleakly  hopeful films of the last few years. It is in itself a paradox which raises lots of questions about romance and rediscovering oneself beyond the breakup in which both parties are innocent of any wrongdoing.

Rigby starts off in a rather jarring way, with both Conor and Eleanor forced to cope with a newly fragmented relationship they both thought would never end. Conor is doing whatever he can to get Eleanor back; he is relentless almost to the point of recklessness. Eleanor, on the other hand, is confused as to what distraction will prove to be her next step in life.

They’re essentially lost souls trapped in another time and place.

Both are confused about their roles to the point that they don’t know why they do certain things while they’re in the middle of doing them. Conor at one point follows Eleanor around New York, but decided to break off without talking to her. Eleanor goes to classes just for the sake of doing something. They try to search for the people they were before, but Conor is the only one who realizes that being with Eleanor permanently changed him.

The concept sounds dreary and, frankly, depressing, but Benson’s excellent direction makes us believe there is some thread of destiny still connecting them. Even Eleanor sometimes yearns for the piece of herself she left in Conor.

The most emotionally charged moments come in the few scenes where Conor and Eleanor are together, not trying to work things out but trying to figure out what went wrong. Darkly contrasting them are the sparse peeks we get at their “happily ever after”, when they were young and innocent and didn’t think they would change. Essentially the film’s theme is summed up when Conor’s dad says, “A shooting star lasts only a second, but aren’t you glad to have at least seen it?”

The tone Benson employs justifies that statement to impressive effect. It’s an emotionally exhausting film; the audience is forced to go through the same ordeal as Conor and Eleanor. But we like being in their company, because Rigby isn’t about one person trying to redeem themselves from cheating or some other blow. It offers a different type of problem, one that may be incapable of being fixed.

The biggest reason for Rigby being so effective, by a long shot, are the dynamic, torturous performances of James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain. It’s easy to say that their portrayals of Conor and Eleanor are their best to date. And that’s saying something for Jessica Chastain (The Help, The Tree of Life), who has a Best Actress Oscar for Zero Dark Thirty. She continues to add to her superb resume as someone who should be talked about much more than she is. 

McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past, First Class, Wanted) also turns in a believable and supremely gloomy role as someone torn between going after lost love and moving on. He excels at balancing his hopelessness with the shock he goes through when he realizes the most important thing in his life is gone.

rigby hah

Bill Hader (SNL, Superbad) and Viola Davis (The Help) turn in great supporting roles as friends helping the couple to cope. The venerable William Hurt also appears in the film, and he is as fantastic as ever.

The film’s writing, also done by Ned Benson, is a thing of beauty. Conor and Eleanor never have too much to say because they’re too busy keeping to themselves, but when they do engage in conversation it is easy to see how transparent their lives have become. There is a melancholy tone in what they say which suggests that they both know they can’t fix things, but it still might be worth a try.

And that’s the main point that The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby gets across. Sometimes happily ever after lasts only a short while, and though something may end too soon, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t cherish it.

In a Nutshell

Benson, a relatively as-yet-unknown, invents a superb effort of a broken relationship as viewed by both parties. Even though this is just an edit of the two original films he created, the message and impact is still prevalent and as powerful as ever, thanks in large part to two rising stars in McAvoy and Chastain. It is the anti-social twin of The Notebook, and that is in every way refreshing.

9 / 10 or If you’re tired of the conventional and cliched romance, and even if you’re not, check out this unique and pioneering film.

 

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them is rated R for language 

Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain

Directed by: Ned Benson 

2014

 

 

 

 

 

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Five Movies To Catch In The Closing Months Of 2014

 

2014’s summer movie season is officially over and it can be safely said that it was a disappointing one. Hollywood’s offerings overall were not as bombastic as yesteryear, save for some gems in the bookend months of May and August. Audiences didn’t swarm to the great number of lackluster films, and the numbers showed that. When adjusted for inflation, which by God it should be all the time, box office totals were the lowest in 22 years.

Bollocks.

The good news is that fall and winter are on their way, which most critics very well know is when quality films arrive in theaters. Films worthy of the Oscar season, which is just around the corner.

So don’t fret! Great movies are a’coming, of all genres and for all audiences. Here is just a sample to get you excited for spending cold days at the multiplex.

 

 

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

First appearing at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, The Dissapearance of Eleanor Rigby has garnered nothing but excellent reviews by those who have seen it. Starring Jessica Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) and James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Wanted) – two actors who prove more versatile and engaging with each film they are in – Eleanor Rigby tells the story of a young couple trying to find the spark which brought them together so long ago.

What makes Eleanor Rigby unique is the pioneering way in which it was made. Writer/Director Ned Benson actually made two films, one titled Him and the other Her, both around an hour and a half long. Each film tells the story of Conor and Eleanor from each of their perspectives, and from the sound of it, it works magnificently.

For wide release, Benson made a third film titled Them which combines portions of the two films to get the full story. But if you’re near a theater which will release both individual installments of Him and Her on October 10, you would do well to check them out.

Releases September 12th

 

Gone Girl

The latest offering from acclaimed director David Fincher, Gone Girl is an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name. Told using the same macabre tone and noir style that Fincher so excellently employed in The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl will be a surefire hit with the critics, as well as a contender at the Oscars.

The resurgence of Ben Affleck (Argo, The Town) continues as he is perfectly cast as Nick Dunne, the “did he or didn’t he” husband of Amy Dunne, who goes missing under suspicious circumstances. Rosamund Pike and Tyle Perry co-star, as well as Neil Patrick Harris in a rare dark role.

For those unfamiliar with the novel but have seen Fincher’s previous films, you know the quality of his works. For those not familiar with Fincher’s style but have read the novel, know that he is the perfect director to take on the dark and dreary world of Gone Girl.

For those unfamiliar with both the excellent novel and Fincher…consider this a welcome introduction to both.

 

Releases October 3rd

 

Interstellar

What’s NOT to be excited about with this movie?

For starters, the tantalizingly brilliant and criminally underrated Christopher Nolan – who brought us Memento, Inception, and The Dark Knight Trilogy – has yet to make a bad, or even mediocre film. Interstellar continues the renaissance of Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, Mud) who has been arguably the best actor to have appeared on both the big screen and TV screen in the past year. Plus the rest of the cast is a rock n’ roll ensemble with Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine to name a few.

As with Nolan’s previous films, most details about Interstellar are under wraps. The gist of the plot is that McConaughey’s character leads a group into the far reaches of space using wormholes to save their own, dying Earth.

Which brings us to the biggest reason to be stoked about Interstellar. It’s about OUTER SPACE! Which, as Gravity showed us, can be as lethal as it is beautiful. And you can bet that Nolan is going to make the experience as engaging and dazzling as technology will allow.

 

Releases November 7th

 

Big Hero 6

For the first time since 2005, Pixar skipped out on releasing a movie this year.

Betcha didn’t even notice, huh?

And we all know that a year without a Pixar film is going to be extremely weak in the animation department. Indeed it has been thus far in 2014, save for The Lego Movie early in the year as well as How To Train Your Dragon 2.

But fear not, because Big Hero 6 is on the way! Made by Disney and based on the Marvel property, the film introduces Hiro and his robot Baymax as they uncover a criminal plot and save the world. This will be an interesting one to catch as it is the first Disney animated film to feature Marvel characters since the famous/infamous acquisition in 2009.

If the trailer is any indication, it will be a blast.

Releases November 7th

 

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

I don’t really need to explain, do I?

It’s Peter Jackson’s (maybe) final farewell to Tolkien’s fantasy universe of Middle-earth.

It’s the sequel to an installment which improved in every facet on the first.

Even more importantly, it’s the return of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug, as well as our last chance to cheer on Martin Freeman’s (Sherlock) hero hobbit, Bilbo, and Sir Ian McKellen’s impeccable Gandalf.

Do yourself a favor: don’t miss this movie.

 

Releases December 17th