There are two sides to every story. If you don’t believe that, just check out The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Ned Benson’s directorial debut. This three-part romantic drama, now available for instant streaming on Netflix following its theatrical release last year, takes a couple (James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain), gives them a tragic event, and shows us their crumbling relationship. Unlike Force Majeure however, Benson’s film shows gives us two separate films; the first, Him, tells the story from the viewpoint of Conner (McAvoy), and the second, Her, tells the story from Eleanor’s (Chastain). Both films are feature length, providing us with a 189-minute motion picture, all wrapped up with Them, a single film that acts as the third in the trilogy of sorts but is actually a 120-minute combination of both perspectives.
It’s a unique filmmaking tactic, one that I haven’t seen before, and even though it can often be tedious to sit through the same events unfolding in multiple films, I didn’t find myself bored through the events of Her, even though I had already seen them unfold in Him. As I watched the second part of the three-part film, I was bothered by the continuity errors, such as certain events that occurred in the first part being reshot incorrectly. Some scenes had characters in the same exact place at the same exact time, but certain lines of dialogue were massively misquoted, causing a strong level of frustration.
That being said, it isn’t one of the film’s flaws. I began to realize just what the film was going for in intentionally making those errors. This is a movie not concerned with giving us a single story and showing how the girl deals with it versus how the guy deals with it. No, this goes back to the “Two sides to every story” line. Him gives us a perceptual view of Eleanor, or how Conner sees her. And since Eleanor is the central character, Her shows us who she really is. This of course leads us to question whether or not one of the sides is more truthful than the other, which, in my opinion, is an accomplishment.
The movie is about Eleanor and Conner, a couple who are going through a breakup after the events following a major life tragedy. Eleanor, as the title suggests, disappears, but not like Amy in Gone Girl. She simply leaves him, walks out and demands her space. But Conner can’t just let her go. So, much of the film (Him in this case) follows him as he looks for her, sometimes with the help of Stuart (Bill Hader), his best friend and the main chef at the restaurant he owns. But a lot of it focuses on how Conner deals with the average struggles of life, like his family, her family, his finances, and the issue of his failing restaurant. As Conner, James McAvoy, a serious talent and one a terrific modern actor, gives a strong central performance, one that meets Chastain’s level of commitment and has terrific chemistry with her.
As Eleanor, Jessica Chastain is just wonderful, turning in another performance that seals her spot as one of the best actresses working today. As the troubled and regretful Eleanor, she is one hundred percent convincing, hitting every stroke of emotion and humor with a deft touch. She shines in both films, obviously given more screen time in Her, but her character feels tangible and real and emotionally unstable in a way that is always fascinating to watch.
A lot of people are caught up in the struggle of knowing how to watch this movie and where to begin. Personally, I started with Him, then watched Her, and then watched Them. If you want to see the whole story in one feature length sitting, just go with Them. But I do advise against it, mainly because you’ll miss a lot of good individual story elements. Collectively, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a relatable piece of romance cinema, anchored by two strong performances and a passionate first time director. It’s also quite funny, which is always a perk.
‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)
Rated R for language
Starring James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain
Written and directed by Ned Benson