Thursday, September 18, 2014

A young wife's vanishing act

Chastain and McAvoy strike impressive notes in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them is a hybrid creation that results from making a two-hour feature out of two separate movies that ambitiously tried to observe a troubled marriage from the vantage points of both husband and wife.

This amalgamated production, which stars James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, may not achieve greatness, but it's not without its virtues.

Chastain gives another deeply inhabited performance, this time playing a woman who's trying to shut down most of her feelings, and you certainly sense the high ambition in director Ned Benson's approach. He includes the work lives of the characters, as well as their relationships with parents and friends.

In this version, Benson proves a master of slow disclosure, gradually dispensing relevant information as we become more familiar with the characters. An estranged husband and wife are dealing with a tragic event that totally upended their marriage and just about everything else in their lives.

The movie moves back and forth between Eleanor (Chastain) and Conor (McAvoy). They open the movie in a scene set during their courtship. They're in a restaurant, and Conor lacks sufficient funds to pay the bill.

The adventurous Eleanor devises an escape route, bonding the couple with an illicit act that suggests the outlines of the relationship we'll get to known better as the story progresses.

After a suicide attempt, the shattered Eleanor moves in with her parents (Isabelle Huppert and William Hurt). A university professor, Hurt's character tries to help Eleanor, often to no avail.

Dad does, however, introduce her to a professor and former colleague (Viola Davis) who's teaching a course on identity formation, and who approaches life with a savvy, slightly cynical air that's a bit too unvaried to be totally convincing.

McAvoy's Conor, who's trying to keep a struggling bar and restaurant afloat, moves in with his father (Ciaran Hinds). In contrast to his son, Hinds' character operates a highly successful bar and restaurant, but seems stuck in his own brand of misery anyway.

Bill Hader plays Conor's pal and the chef at his restaurant, a guy who evidently has had a long-standing relationship with his buddy.

Eleanor Rigby (an avid Beatles fan, her father saddled her with the name) vanishes from Conor's life. Again and again, he tries to make contact with her.

At about two hours in length, the movie overstays its welcome, but I found it watchable, even when I felt as if I were observing actors trying to work out difficult issues in various challenging scene studies.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby makes you (at least it did me) eager to see Benson's two-film study of a marriage. Perhaps, then, its best parts -- and there are many -- would cohere in a more impressive way.

No comments: