‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ Brings Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy to the Oscar Race

eleanorrigby_imageCANNES FILM FESTIVAL: The Cannes Film Festival continues on this weekend and the European community got a look at the now combined version of Ned Benson’s The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby starring Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.  Being distributed by the Weinstein Company, the film, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last September, is receiving positive notices especially Chastain.

The film has been undergoing some changes over the past year. First announced as two separate films with the end titles, “Him” and “Her” attached, the film, being affectionately called “Them” for the moment, will be released as one film with a 1 hour 59 minute runtime on September 26. The separate versions are scheduled to be released a few weeks after according to reports.

With the review pouring in, it looks like we could be in store for another big year from the two-time Oscar nominated actress. After scoring two nominations for The Help and Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain has another big year scheduled for herself. On top of Benson’s debut film, she will also star alongside Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year from J.C. Chandor, Interstellar from Christopher Nolan, and could have Miss Julie hit this year from Liv Ullman.

McAvoy looks to be getting good notices but with the cloud of “he’s not as good as Chastain” following. The esteemed British actor arguably should have an Oscar nomination under his belt for Joe Wright’s Atonement (and maybe The Last King of Scotland depending on your feelings). It’s being said that Chastain’s “Eleanor” is more sympathetic and compelling. If Chastain’s performance blows up on the awards circuit, I could see McAvoy being pulled in à la a Angela Bassett/Laurence Fishburne pairing back in 1993 for What’s Love Got to Do With It?  That’s just a hunch. I’ve added the film, Chastain, and McAvoy to the 2014 Oscar Tracker.

Oliver Lyttleton of The Playlist praises its stars and Benson’s style:

But the film really belongs to McAvoy and Chastain, who do close to career-best work here: the former masks his pain with a jokey boyishness, the latter becoming increasingly sharp and furious, drowning under her grief. The film’s never better when they’re sharing the screen.

Benson also does a fine job behind the camera too: letting scenes play out unintrusively, capturing NYC with a woozy beauty, and generally showing that he has an excellent eye (on the evidence of this, “The Bling Ring” and “Night Moves,” Christopher Blauveldt is fast becoming one of the best rising cinematographers out there). And for a film that must be something of a Frankenstein’s Monster in terms of how it was assembled, it holds together reasonably well: aside from Eleanor’s scenes having a sort of orange tinge and Conor’s a blue, there’s little to suggest that this will originally intended as two separate companion pieces.

Xan Brooks of The Guardian isn’t the biggest fan:

Away from Chastain, however, the film does start to falter. While Benson treats his characters with care and respect, his depiction of grief can feel studied and not felt. Much of the dialogue is very on the nose. “Tragedy is a foreign country,” murmurs Eleanor’s dad. “It isn’t your job to investigate the vast expanse of the past,” Conor’s dad (Ciaran Hinds) advises him. The film’s supporting players function as a kind of ongoing Greek chorus.

Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter harps on the cut:

Originally unveiled at the Toronto film festival in a 191 minute version that was novelly divided into two parts called ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ and told from two different perspectives, Ned Benson’s accomplished all-star feature debut screened in the Certain Regard section in a brand new 123 minute cut entitled The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them. Shedding 68 minutes of running time makes a hefty difference in the way the story is told and how it feels to watch it. As might be imagined, the shorter cut will have brighter commercial prospects as a smart, romantic date movie when it is released Stateside by The Weinstein Company at the end of September. It is also a far more conventional film and, as it turns out, a much less fascinating journey with the characters. More committed audiences would do well to invest in the whole shebang when the full two-part film finds limited art house release later in the fall, and enjoy the intense and engaging performances fromJessica Chastain and James McAvoy that bring the well-written screenplay to life.

Gregory Ellwood of HitFix gives it a rave, especially about Chastain:

Chastain, who is also a producer on the project, is simply exquisite. There are only a handful of actresses who could have pulled this character off and Chastain clearly demonstrates she’s one of them.  Even though some might find Eleanor’s character selfish in her actions, Chastain find a balance that wears her depression well. She never plays Eleanor as incapable or overburdened. Instead, Eleanor is just trying to look in the mirror (a recurring theme) and discover who she really is at this point in her life. There is an incredible scene toward the end of the film where she breaks down in front of Connor that many will label an “Oscar reel moment.” Such recognition would be genuinely deserved.

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