The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Disappearing Script,Too—Movie

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” suffers from a script filled with so many holes and unanswered questions that even the fabulous acting which abounds cannot save. Written and directed by Ned Benson, the film was originally conceived as two films, “Him” and “Her,” telling the story of a NYC couple’s failing relationship from the male and female perspectives. The manner in which to present the films changed over the buying process and where once a more than three-hour combination of the two films was discussed, the film was eventually cut and combined into the piece we see on the screen, subtitled “Them.” Sitting through three hours with an intermission would have been manageable and probably would have helped answer many of the questions we have from viewing “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” However, we have just this film to judge…not what might have or should have been. As such, we are left with a Swiss cheese movie.


“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” opens with an attempted suicide. Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain) has jumped off a bridge, but is immediately rescued. We then get flashbacks to a happier time in Eleanor’s life with someone we learn later is her husband, Connor (James McAvoy). Then we return to present time in the hospital where Eleanor has been recovering and is now going back to live for the time-being with her parents, Julian and Mary Rigby (William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert) and her younger sister, Katy (Jess Weixler) and Katy’s young son, Philip (Wyatt Ralff). From the way her family treats her with kid gloves, we know that something traumatic happened to Eleanor before the suicide attempt, but what that is remains unspoken. Eleanor’s father urges her to go back to school and work on her doctorate, setting up an appointment with one of his colleagues, Professor Friedman (Viola Davis) who takes a shine to Eleanor in a very no-nonsense way.

While Eleanor is going through her recovery, we meet Connor in present day. He owns a failing restaurant/ bar and just seems very unhappy. He’s packing up his apartment with plans to move in with his restaurateur father (Ciarán Hinds). While he knows what has happened to Eleanor, he’s unable to connect with her in person. He eventually goes to her parents’ home for a conversation with Eleanor’s mother. He learns that Eleanor is back in school and starts stalking her until he’s able to work up the courage to have a conversation with her.

Jennifer Chastain and James McAvoy are wonderful as a couple no longer able to communicate, but why? One can make a calculated guess, but what is the secret? Chastain plays the title character, but McAvoy is equally terrific as she is. As a character, his may be the sadder role,  because he really has no one close to talk to. He doesn’t seem to have much of a support system other than his employee/friend (Bill Hader). But he is of little help and Connor doesn’t appear to have much of a relationship with his father. McAvoy handles all of this masterfully. Chastain gives an amazingly nuanced performance as Eleanor. In addition to McAvoy, her work with all of her co-stars is extremely good. But perhaps the camera likes her a tad too much. So much time is spent on close-ups of her face that, as a woman, I was left to wonder just who did her eye-makeup.

William Hurt is simply amazing as Eleanor’s father. His eyes convey so much and his talks with Eleanor are wonderful to listen to. Isabelle Huppert is also terrific as the somewhat distant mother who doesn’t seem as connected to Eleanor as is her father. Jess Weixler, known to most of us from “The Good Wife,” has a great turn as Eleanor’s younger sister. And her portrayal of someone going out on a date for the first time in a long time is spot on. However, one could very much  live without the cliché-driven girls’ night out. It’s been done a thousand times and just doesn’t feel right in this film. Viola Davis, as the professor with her own personal problems, is also very good in the thankless, stereotypical role.

It really does make a difference to one’s appreciation of the film to better understand the cause of the demise of Eleanor’s and Connor’s relationship. Why the secrecy? And when we finally do find out why, it would help to know the how. Even learning Katy’s back-story would be helpful. Why is everyone in the Rigby family living under the same roof?

A few years ago, a similar topic was explored much more successfully and succinctly in “Rabbit Hole.” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” is not without its merits, but one can’t help but wonder what was left on the cutting-room floor.

2 nuggets out of 4

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2 Responses to “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Disappearing Script,Too—Movie”

  1. thycriticman Says:

    Wow, McAvoy starring in a stinker, eh? That is a strange sight. His talent is usually able to overcome that. However, after reading this, it sounds like the filmmakers forgot to edit in a few key scenes!


    • Joan Fuchsman Says:

      I think if the movie is good people will sit through more than 3 hours if there is a short intermission, and with Eleanor, for they type of crowd this film is attracting and the theatres in which it’s playing in DC, this would work. It’s been done before, but not recently. The acting in this is really good so it’s a shame. And I for one could listen to and watch William Hurt for a lot longer than the screen time he is given.


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