“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” starts with a petty theft.
In a crowded restaurant, Conor says to Eleanor: “Would you still love me if I can’t pay for dinner?” They make a break for it, and land in a “Twilight”-esque meadow except it’s Central Park and it’s night time.
“There’s only one heart in this body,” Conor says. “Have mercy on me.”
In the next scene, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) jumps off of a bridge, cue the aching question: What happened? And “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” attempts to answer.
Soon, it’s revealed that the two are man and wife. When Eleanor is released from the hospital post-suicide attempt, she wants nothing to do with Conor (James McAvoy).
She crashes with her parents, chops off her hair and takes classes at a New York college, where she befriends Professor Friedman (Viola Davis). On their first meeting, they talk her Beatles-inspired namesake. After an anecdote of how Eleanor’s parents met:
“You must detest the Beatles,” says Friedman. And Eleanor: “No, not really.”
That was it, cut and dried.
“The Disappearance” jumps from Eleanor to Conor, whose restaurant — which he runs with his best friend Stu (Bill Hader) — is struggling. In his spare time, Conor calls his wife, visits her parents’ house and mini-stalks her on busy New York streets.
Save for one flashback to their high-schoolish automobile coitus, it’s difficult to see what Conor’s fighting for, and this reviewer began to lose interest about halfway through. While this film teeters on the family tragedy that led to Eleanor’s death-dive, there was very little to illustrate the couple’s happiness at any time in the relationship. With barely anything to juxtapose, the plot conflict left much wanting.
This reviewer is a huge fan of both lead actors, but Chastain as Eleanor is emaciated — rightly so for the character — but her performance comes across as emotionally constipated. Chastain does numb and angry — accurate for a depressed character. But with films like “Zero Dark Thirty,” “A Most Violent Year” and “Jolene,” her talents felt wasted here.
McAvoy as Conor effectively plays lovelorn and aimless, enlisting huge empathy and some slight annoyance. Some other heavy hitters in Eleanor’s parents: French actress Isabelle Huppert as Eleanor’s wine-glass touting mother and William Hurt as her stern and authoritative pops. And none really have a place to shine here.
“The Disappearance” plays at identity and self just enough to sense an overarching theme. Eleanor takes an Identity Theory course. She refuses intimacy with another man because “he’s a stranger.” Conor’s father says, “Mostly people are just fading away.” At two points, both Conor and Eleanor ask if they seem different to which another responds: “You look the same to me.”
Yes, tragedy is a gaping wound that few can see.
Both Conor and Eleanor’s fathers channel Socrates or Thomas Aquinas, and it doesn’t seem to fit. “Tragedy is a foreign country,” says Eleanor’s father. “We don’t know how to talk to the natives.”
These jabs at something larger also left much wanting.
And the crux: “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” is one of a three-part film by director Benson. After completing this segment, there’s a large inclination to continue. But on the other hand, tell a complete story in two hours or maybe don’t tell it at all.
It’s a good Beatles song, though.
“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them”
Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis
Screenwriter/director: Ned Benson
Rating: R for language
Available: Amazon Prime, iTunes, Netflix Instant