The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them is a relationship movie with a misleading title and murky intentions. It has nothing to do with the Beatles or the characters in their iconic song. What the movie does have is strong work from stars Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy as a once happy young couple whose marriage gets eroded by grief. First-time director-writer Ned Benson audaciously conceived and filmed this thing as Her and Him, two separate 2-hour movies telling the same melancholic story from the two main character’s different points of view. That version caused a big film festival stir and was picked up for distribution by The Weinstein Company.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, which runs 122 minutes, has been fused-together from Her and Him, at the demand of company boss Harvey Weinstein, who probably saw the long version as a tough sell. (The separate versions are scheduled to hit theaters in October) Even pared down, though, it’s a long sit. It’s a wandering, plotless, and studiously serious movie in which McAvoy’s hipster-ish character owns a restaurant-bar, hangs out with work friends (played nicely by Bill Hader and Nina Arianda), and carries on long-standing battles with his wealthy, unhappy father (Ciaran Hinds, playing for keeps). Meanwhile, Chastain’s adrift, anguished character (named after the Beatles’ song) attempts suicide in the movie’s second scene and returns home to live in the posh Connecticut Colonial home of her chilly, cerebral parents (William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert in fine form). She occasionally takes grad courses but she (and we) aren’t sure why. She’s disappearing right before our eyes but since the movie never bothered to present her as especially vivid, searching, or intelligent to begin with, we’re left to wonder what exactly we’re losing.
After a while, Them seems loaded with narcissism and what Louis CK likes to call White People’s Problems. At least Viola Davis plays one of Chastain’s professors and their funny, complex, enjoyable scenes together give the movie a temporary lift. Mostly, though, Them mostly drifts along nicely on shifting moods, tones, flashbacks, and incidents. You hate to pile on a movie like this because it’s clearly made by someone smart, talented, not averse to some preciously overwrought dialogue, and fluent in movies by Ingmar Bergman, Louis Malle and Jean-Luc Goddard.
Them doesn’t cozy up to the audience with particularly likeable or sympathetic characters, which is fine, and it’s played by actors who don’t try to make them so, which is refreshing. What isn’t so great is although McAvoy and Chastain are terrific at filling in the blank spots, their chemistry doesn’t seem genuine. Worse, the characters they’re playing aren’t very deep, insightful, or particularly riveting. They seem so narcissistic that even if their lives hadn’t been touched by genuine tragedy, they’d still be overcome by discontent. By the time the movie ends, we don’t even know very much more about these two than we did when we started: that they’re a pair of privileged, great-looking people with a photogenic case of the oh-so-sads. **