Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Ciarán Hinds, William Hurt, Bill Heder, Jess Weixler, Isabelle Huppert, Nina Arianda, and Li Jun Li.
Synopsis (From IMDB): A New York couple’s relationship as told by the husband/A New York couple’s relationship as told by the wife.
Why It Could Succeed:
For starters, the title incorporates the name of one of The Beatles’ most haunting and beautiful songs. Considering the band is often regarded as the greatest in history, devotees of the arts and the Fab Four will be seeking out this independent film solely because of its title. The average Academy voter is also 62, the very same age as those belonging to the “Baby Boom” generation, born between the late 40s and mid 60s. This generation lived and breathed Beatles’ music (just ask my dad!), so you can bet The Academy will amend its conservative stance if The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is worthy enough of partially sharing the name of the cherished track from the band’s “Revolver” album.
Secondly, The Academy seems to be on this trend of “discovering” the next young, fresh, talented movie director by recognizing their feature-length film debuts with Oscar nominations. The two major examples that come to mind are Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) and of course last year’s Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild). Even though both directors were more heavily aided by film festivals and publications like ours to give them the attention they deserve, The Academy nevertheless seems to credit themselves for championing these new voices in cinema by doling out the gift of Oscar love. If the stars somehow align correctly for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, I can easily see the 36 year-old Ned Benson (a teenager in film director years) receiving such accolades and being heralded “the next *insert famous director’s name here*.”
What Ned Benson has going for him is the romance genre, which has played incredibly well with festival goers and critics alike when done right. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby stands out because it is divided into two parts, and seems very much a gender study as much as it is a relationship one. Could this independent romantic drama be the next Before Sunrise? I have this gut feeling that even if the film doesn’t make the stretch to the Dolby Theatre, it will be one of the breakout critical darlings of 2013. With Jessica Chastain on hand, fresh off her back-to-back Oscar nominations, I could see this drawing massive appeal to Academy voters, fans of the fiery-haired thespian, and film critics from a wide variety of publications (who’ve been her biggest supporters, let’s face it). Chastain also has an established working chemistry with Benson since she starred in his previous short film, The Westerner. Not much is known about the plot of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby itself, but from what I know it’s very much in the vein of Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine where a relationship that at first seemed perfect ends up breaking down, and the director takes us on the journey to discover what led to the tragic fracture. Oh, and besides 2007’s Across the Universe, the last time a Beatle song was used for a fictitious narrative that had nothing to the do with the band itself was 2000’s Almost Famous with Kate Hudson as “Penny Lane.” We all know how that turned out with Oscar, so there’s certainly room with Benson’s film and Chastain’s performance to repeat the magic.
Why It Could Fail:
Because Benson is not a big name in Hollywood yet, it will be difficult for him to draw a sizable enough audience to make a profit. What The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby needs badly is a Gala showcase at an upcoming film festival. Without any buzz, the project will fizzle and be relegated to only a select number of theaters when it releases on September 13th. I worry that this unique two-part narrative will be swept under the rug like many independent projects in 2013. That’s the nature of the entertainment business, but Benson’s new voice and his talented cast warrant a high-profile exhibition. I’m not sure he’ll receive it this year since the competition is so tough, especially during the time he’ll be releasing The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (he’ll be competing with the likes of Ron Howard’s Rush, Denis Villenueve’s Prisoners and Luc Besson’s Malavita, all of which are rumored to be awards players in the making).
Speaking of Benson’s cast, Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy are unique specimens in Hollywood. They are one of the few in the biz that have starred in commercial successes and big Oscar players — Chastain has two Oscar nominations under her belt and had two of her films at the top of the box office in the same weekend, twice — but for whatever reason aren’t considered “household names.” I bet if you walked down the street and asked someone who Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy are, one out of six people probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. That’s somewhat a good thing for Chastain and McAvoy, since they’ll be out of the spotlight and off the covers of those awful tabloid magazines, but it also means they aren’t guaranteed box office draws like a Tom Cruise or Sandra Bullock. Without such notoriety, having their names attached to this film won’t make a lick of difference when it comes to purchased seats. Just look at how McAvoy has started his year off in Danny Boyle’s critical and commercial bust, Trance.
Finally, double features aren’t what they were in the 1970s. Just ask Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, who both tried to revive that particular brand of moviegoing with 2007’s pulp extravaganza Grindhouse. Personally, it was one of the best movie theater experiences of my life, especially since I shared it with my father, but a flop is a flop so clearly it’s an experiment that’s only proved a failure with the masses. As of now, it appears as though The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Hers are being released together as one double feature (they both share the same theatrical release date). Whether that will change depends on the early buzz and the decisions made by the film’s distributor. Regardless, if this film can’t even eke out a million dollars at the box office, there’s no shot in heck of it breaking into a Best Picture lineup, or any award category lineup for that matter.
Jessica Chastain for “Best Actress” and Ned Benson for “Best Original Screenplay” are the only awards nominations I feel most comfortable mentioning for serious consideration. After Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain has become acting royalty and every role of hers from here on out will be viewed through an “awards contender” lens. Like I mentioned earlier, new talent can be recognized in a big way by AMPAS, but the safe bet for newcomer Benson is in the original screenplay category. If his narrative encapsulates the destruction of marriage in an honest and real way, I could easily see Benson filling out several precursor lists. His narrative framework, if done correctly, will be one that many will remember by year’s end.
As for the rest, Viola Davis and James McAvoy could sneak their way in but their chances are slim to none. Since McAvoy’s story will be the first featured, he’s at a disadvantage because the great Chastain will be the last performer viewers will remember as they walk out of the screening. McAvoy will need to yield a career best or close-to to have any sort of traction this awards season. Viola Davis is notorious for scene-stealing, but unlike The Help and Doubt, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is not an ensemble piece and Davis’ role might be too limited and insignificant to successfully build a campaign around. Still, never underestimate Viola Davis, especially since AMPAS owes her for their last-minute snub of her outstanding work in 2011’s The Help.
Best Director — Ned Benson
Best Original Screenplay — Ned Benson
Best Actress — Jessica Chastain
Best Actor — James McAvoy
Best Supporting Actress — Viola Davis
Best Original Score