NED BENSON’S THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: HIM/HER — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Seriously. I’m convinced that The Weinsteins buy movies just to buy them, waiting to see how the cinematic climate and early awards season shakes out, and if a film they own doesn’t fit their agenda, well, they just bury it. Ask James Gray how he feels about The Immigrant. Ditto Jean-Pierre Jeunet over his latest unsung gem T.S. Spivet. Another recent casualty: Ned Benson’s unabashedly romantic and deeply emotional two-parter The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her. This is an ambitious dual effort, focusing on the painful seven year marriage of Connor (a magnificent James McAvoy in the best performance of his career) and Eleanor (the radiant and spellbinding Jessica Chastain who appears incapable of hitting any false notes), who are reeling from the somewhat recent death of their child. Eleanor suddenly tells Connor that she needs some time to herself to think about her life and to see how she really feels about where things are headed for them as a couple. Confused and scared and still clearly in love, Eleanor is clearly having some sort of internal crisis, and Chastain plays these moments with careful grace and quiet authority. Reluctantly, Connor allows her some space, but not without still keeping tabs on Eleanor, always in an effort to win her back. McAvoy wears an openly bleeding heart all throughout the story, never giving up on the woman he loves, but still allowing for the notion that the two of them are in a tough spot as a couple.

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The kicker of this project is that there are two films that roughly tell the same story, hence the subtitles Him and Her. Each film is an hour and 40 minutes, with the Him section telling the events through Connor’s POV, and vice versa. Fascinatingly similar to Showtime’s groundbreaking double narrative TV series The Affair, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is mysterious with its facts, allowing little tidbits of info to be carefully parsed out to the viewer, forcing the audience to fill in some blanks before the complete story is put into full perspective. And if the final moments don’t spell the ending out explicitly, the story ends exactly the way it should, because in life, there are no easy answers to the hardest of situations. Both Chastain and McAvoy are achingly sad and believable in their emotionally taxing roles, in love and lust one moment, at each other’s throats the next. Chemistry is something often talked about between two actors, and there’s no mistaking the palpable bond that Chastain and McAvoy displayed here. Movies about troubled marriages can be tough to watch when they are this raw and open and sincere, and credit must be given to Benson – this was his first film and he’s made an enormously challenging and deeply rewarding pair of works that were unfairly banished from theaters.

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Why bother buying this movie if you were never prepared to release it the way the artist intended? It’s certainly not a traditional project, and it would have required extra care in terms of marketing, but something this well done and richly observed deserved way more fanfare and acclaim. The only way one can view the two separate films, I believe, is by purchasing the Blu-ray set, as The Weinsteins decided on splicing the two efforts together for their totally half-assed and disinterested theatrical release. Calling the combined film The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, the film simply doesn’t have the same sort of power when viewed as a spliced effort. The novelty of the project stems from the ability to see the story from two different angles, allowing every moment to be fully fleshed out, which is new and exciting and allows for a more observational viewing. I absolutely can’t wait to see what Benson’s next film is, and I hope the lack of exposure his first film received doesn’t dissuade him from working again in the near future.

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