The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him (2013) is one part of a dual film telling of a single story. It is a pretty bold experiment, though it is anticipated that a ‘Them’ cut will be released in cinemas, rather than both the films. It is important to note that I saw this film before The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her (2013) as that is the order they played in at CIFF. All other festivals I heard screened the films have done it in the opposite order. No idea why CIFF bucked this trend or if the filmmaker has a preferred order for them to be shown.
The two films tell the story of the relationship of Conor, played by James McAvoy, and Eleanor played by Jessica Chastain. Or more accurately, the film tells of the break-up of the two characters rather than much about their relationship. That is one of the most noticeable aspects of the film early on, it kind of starts at the end. Though details gradually get sketched in, initially you are presented with the end of a relationship. Which, given our propensity to be shown otherwise, makes it a tough film to get involved in emotionally. As an audience, we have not seen the highs of this love story, so it is difficult to know how much we should mourn what has now passed. Without the backdrop, it is hard to truly understand the ramifications. McAvoy’s Conor fares badly as a character as a result of this as well, because he just seems like such an utter sadsack of a character. Perhaps a little more detail would have resulted in a little more empathy going his way. The other aspect of the film that is evident pretty early on is that the script is rather overwrought. There are no grounded interactions between the two main characters, everything is major. Perhaps that is because at the point of a breakup everything really is major. But there is a non-naturalistic theatricality to these engagements which is not there in some of the interactions between lesser characters. Strangely, this overwrought aspect of the dialogue does not imbue it with depth. Instead, it rings hollow, perhaps as a result of its unnatural feel.
James McAvoy is a performer that can go either way for me. I have enjoyed his turns in films such as X-Men: First Class (2011) and Welcome to the Punch (2013). But in other roles such as in Trance (2013), he has felt a little lightweight to me. As it is here, and the main issue is that he is acting opposite across from Jessica Chastain. When the two of them go toe-to-toe in a big emotional scene, McAvoy in some ways just cannot keep up. Chastain on the other hand cuts through much of the blandness of this film and the material and really lights up the screen. Which in no way suggests hers is a ‘happy’ character. Rather that the emotional depth of her performance is something to latch onto given how much she shines in comparison to everything else going on. The overall feeling I am left with is that McAvoy is quite simply miscast in this film. In performances aside from the two leads, you have to love Bill Hader’s easy charisma onscreen. As Conor’s chef and best friend, he brings a levity to the film, even though his role is not an overtly comedic one.
Verdict: As a stand-alone film, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him is a disappointment. The material and interactions are too overwrought and the miscast McAvoy is unable to carry the dramatic weight of the material. Check back later tonight or tomorrow to see if a focus on Chastain elevates Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her any higher. Schooner of Carlton Draught