Eleanor Rigby


Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain - "beautifully nuanced performances" show breaking up is hard to do.
"How the characters deal with grief is beautifully captured in the nuanced performances of McAvoy and Chastain."

First time director Ned Benson shows accomplished poise in his dissection of a marriage from the point view of the two protagonists (portrayed in stellar performances by James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain).

The catalyst for the troubles of the couple in their early thirties, we learn, has been the death of a baby, which neither of them has managed to come to terms with. He keeps the emotions bottled up and she at one point attempts to commit suicide as way of relieving the emotional pain and sense of love.

The pair are from relatively privileged backgrounds. Her parents (William Hurt as an academic and Isabelle Huppert as the French mother) live with a second daughter and young son, in an enviable Connecticut pile. It was her mother, a child of the Sixties, who gave her the name Eleanor Rigby, after the Beatles song, of course. And in a way, Benson seems to be saying "we're all lonely people" at certain times.

His father (a well-cast Ciaran Hinds) is a restaurant owner who has had a string of partners since his mother died, while he works in his own food business. The rift does bring them back together again in a touching scene.

At the Toronto Film Festival last year the two parts of the film were shown separately and could be seen in any order, but since then Benson has melded them together in to an affecting and pleasing whole.

It creeps up unexpectedly at times. There is no compelling reason why the pair are deserving of our sympathies given their resources at their disposal, but despite that, Benson ensnares the emotions. The couple wake up to the fact that despite their backgrounds, life is not necessarily going to be easy.

How they deal with grief is beautifully captured in the nuanced performances of McAvoy and Chastain. Their attempts to get back together often have disastrous results. In one incident he comes to seek her out at a lecture hall and she runs off with him in pursuit. The chase leads to him being knocked over by a taxi – and she rushes over to tend him before the medics arrive. It marks the start of the healing process for them both. As he says later: “Before I met you, I had no idea who I was.”

Some of the film’s best lines are attributed to Viola Davis as Eleanor’s professor who is giving classes on “identity theory.” Her practical wisdom probably has more comfort than all the entreaties of her parents.

The performances throughout have that lived in feel, demonstrating that Benson possesses a sure way with actors.

Reviewed on: 17 May 2014
Share this with others on...
Two people struggle to stay together after the death of their child.

Director: Ned Benson

Writer: Ned Benson

Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Ryan Eggold, Marta Milans, Ciarán Hinds, Archie Panjabi, William Hurt, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, Jess Weixler, Isabelle Huppert, Katherine Waterston, Nina Arianda, Jimmy Palumbo, Li Jun Li

Year: 2013

Runtime: 122 minutes

Country: US

Search database: