The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (Ned Benson, 2014)

Originally conceived and presented as two separate films, Ned Benson’s then-ambitious dissection of a couple’s estrangement in the wake of tragedy suffers as its presently cohesive whole. Subtitled Them, this newly-edited feature alternately chronicles each party’s respective struggle in picking up the pieces, both emotionally and existentially as the titular Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and beau Conor (James McAvoy) begin to run in place. Going through the motions as the gravity of what drove them apart affects family and friends alike, the couple’s hopes to persevere continuously wane in the face of such adversity.

In direct comparison to obvious anti-romantic inspirations, Eleanor Rigby unfortunately rings a bit too banal in its finished state. Purposefully melancholy as Eleanor’s sense of self depreciates from moment to moment, the film does its best to but can’t competently engage despite circumstantial, moreover character-driven drama. Frankly, the film’s narrative is largely alienating, what with authenticity taking a backseat to awkward dialogue and lack of chemistry between leads in an inexcusable turn of events. Even the core impetus that drives its foot between Eleanor and Conor lacks a discernible dynamism and, sadly enough, what we’re left with is a routine exercise in projected misery that isn’t nearly as hard-hitting as Benson intended for it to be.

Like I mentioned earlier, Benson’s original intentions with the material were and still are more intriguing than the thinly plotted, pseudo-incisive substance presented throughout. While the Him and Her division could (and quite possibly did) lend itself wonderfully in a presentational and/or technical sense, the melding of both individuals’ perspectives procures little more than base level emotionality. Cookie-cutter details surrounding the overarching scenario simply fail to evoke sympathy – a fact that mildly perturbs given intendedly somber commentary on love, loss and self-betterment despite an overwhelming desire to throw in the towel.

Regardless of subjective temptation, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is an exercise in self-important familiarity. Attempted insight into the protagonists’ disparate private lives falls flat as I, the viewer, failed to connect with either of them. If anything, the obviously comparable likes of Blue Valentine, etc. thrive on their effectively cloying methods – often painfully authentic illustrations of love on the rocks and, while emotionally manipulative, excel thanks to an air of overall attachment. Eleanor Rigby trades this for nothing more than an anti-romantic outline full of rote thematic conflict. It’s intermittently engaging, sure, however Ned Benson’s seemingly earnest efforts lack staying power before it all even ends.

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