Does the world really need a remake of He Said, She Said for millennials? Apparently, Harvey Weinstein doesn’t think so.
For moviegoers who blinked and missed it, He Said, She Said was a 1991 feature directed by married film director couple Ken Kwapis and Marisa Silver that depicted the romantic entanglements of on-screen couple Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Perkins. The hook was that the first half of the film was directed from Bacon’s point of view by Kwapis and the second half from Perkins’ point of view by Silver. Only at the end did the two parts meld together.
Now we have the Weinstein-produced The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them by novice director Ned Benson, depicting the romantic entanglements of an on-screen couple played by James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain. In this case, Benson is a film director married to himself. The original idea was that instead of shifting points of view in a single movie, Benson would make two separate films running a total of 191 minutes: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her. In Him, the cinematography was shadowy and urban. In Her, the palette was bright and colorful. But realizing that the commercial prospects of Him and Her were minimal at best, Benson sat down and edited the two parts together into a 123 minutes condensed version called The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, totally eliminating the novel point of view flourishes, resulting in a mediocre New York City tearjerker with no point of view at all.
We first see Conor (McAvoy) and Eleanor (Chastain) in a Greenwich Village restaurant, where they happily skip out on their bill. They run into Tomkins Square Park, out of breath and falling over each other in lust and love. Conor, half seriously, begs Eleanor not to break his heart, “There’s only one heart in my body, have mercy on me.” The next scene follows Eleanor as she tries to kill herself by jumping off a bridge. Obviously some time has passed.
It turns out that Conor and Eleanor after skipping out on their check, married, moved in together in a lower Manhattan apartment, and had a child who mysteriously died, resulting in Eleanor running away from her marriage and life. Eleanor resurfaces after her swan dive into the Westport home of her upscale parents Julian (William Hurt) and Mary (the luminous Isabelle Huppert). Conor is running a failing, low-rent bar and grill with chef pal Stuart (Bill Hader, everybody’s pal) and sexy, love-starved waitress Alexis (Nina Arianda in full Venus in Fur mode). Conor is also in the throes of depression and moves back into the apartment of his father Spencer (Ciarán Hinds). Soon after Eleanor has been spotted in the Village, Conor follows her like a modern day version of Dustin Hoffman stalking Katherine Ross in The Graduate. And, like Hoffman’s character, Conor tracks Eleanor down to Cooper Union, where she is taking classes on identity theory with soft-hearted cynic Professor Friedman (Viola Davis).
With such a high octane cast at hand, Benson has no trouble keeping the story afloat and, aided and abetted by the skillful editing of Chris Blauvelt and Abbi Jutkowtiz, the film retains a grip and moves. But at its heart the film is airless. There is no there there. Without the point-of-view gimmick the story is a tale of two upper middle class grown-up kids who play at life and have no worries or fears. When things get rough, they can always move back in with their rich parents until they find themselves. If only reality were like this! As Professor Friedman remarks to Eleanor, “Your generation has too many options.” This is why the hoary conceit of the dead child is shoehorned into the plot to offer something at stake (characters allude to it throughout the film like George and Martha’s imaginary son in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).
At its heart, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them is as empty as its characters. Benson delivers an effective opening and closing scene but the rest of the film is a face kept in the jar by the door. Who is it for?