LFF film review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Print
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 17 October 2014 23:24

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a peculiar piece. Made as a two-part exploration of a couple's break-up - each one told from the male or female perspective - it was famously chopped together to make a single version: Him and Her cut to make Them.

The film follows Conor (McAvoy) and Eleanor (Chastain) dealing with the breakdown of their relationship. Writer-director Ned Benson cuts back and forth between the strands effectively enough, but the he-said/she-said structure doesn't always gel; perhaps it is wishful thinking that the Him and Her cuts would prove more emotionally rewarding.

That is not to say there is no feeling here: both sides of the story demand our sympathy. James McAvoy's cheeky smile and watering eyes make Conor a likeable, yet hugely vulnerable, husband, a failed restauranteur overshadowed by his successful father. Jessica Chastain, meanwhile, is ruthlessly aloof, moving on to a new life with barely a glance back.

Each actor is supported by a sterling ensemble. Bill Hader as Conor's chef and Ciaran Hinds as his dad are well realised performances, with one father-son bonding scene in the second half feeling wonderfully natural. VIola Davis also makes an impression as Eleanor's university mentor, Professor Friedman, their no-nonsense exchanges providing a steely humour to offset the moving moments involving Rigby's parents (the poignant partnership of Isabelle Huppert and William Hurt).

As we uncover the reason for the relationship's demise, the examination of coping and mourning finds tender, moving beats - a man who wants to talk and a woman who wants to run away subverts gender stereotypes in a way that matches the sincerity of Benson's script. He shoots McAvoy and Chastain's scenes together with an eye and ear for their substantial chemistry. But you wish we had longer to explore their depths; the performances are so good that you simply want more of them.

Whether knowing individual cuts of the movie exist affects your perception or not, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them ends up being a two-hour trailer for the other two films. The good news is that in America, the individual cuts have been released following the reception to Them. Hopefully the same will happen off the back of this London Film Festival premiere. This abridged edit is a beautifully acted tale of two grieving halves - unhappily joined together.