In “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them,” we see the promise of a bold new filmmaker. This is director Ned Benson’s first feature film, which he also wrote in conjunction with two other films, “Him” and “Her.” The three films make up a unique sort of trilogy that exists within the same narrative and time frame, but take the perspectives of different characters.
Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy star as Eleanor Rigby and Connor Ludlow, a young couple struggling to stay together after their lives take an unexpected turn. In “Them,” Benson deftly weaves together scenes of past and present; the early days of Connor and Eleanor’s blissful courtship as they seize life with the wild abandon of carefree teenagers contrasts sharply with their current reality as world-weary, rudderless thirty-somethings.
Chastain’s skill as an actress needs no introduction; as the melancholy Eleanor searching for an identity in an unsympathetic world, she seethes with quiet rage. Her romantic chemistry with McAvoy is so natural, it’s impossible not to want them to stick together though they remain stubbornly at odds with one another. New York, a city often as brutal as it is beautiful, functions perfectly as the backdrop for this story. Connor aspires to achieve the same success his father has as a restaurant manager, yet struggles to keep his small, downtown bar open in the face of astronomical rent and harsh reviews.
Bill Hader works as much needed comic relief as the chef of their failing establishment. By the same token, a bitingly funny Viola Davis takes on one of her strongest roles yet as Eleanor’s fiercely independent professor. Excellent too in their supporting roles are Ciarán Hinds as Connor’s father, and both William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert as Eleanor’s mother and father, respectively. Through them, Benson gives us a look into a relationship that certainly merits more exploration: That of a parent and adult child as they carefully reset the boundaries within which they relate to one another.
“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” opens in theaters in New York and LA today and September 26 nationwide.