Final Rating (together): 8.5/10
Romantic films always have a pair of people who are in love, whether it be an upbeat comedy or a sorrowful drama. It is often very easy to pick a side within such films, because it is difficult to have both characters balance out evenly. We have seen two romantic films this year that have managed to balance out their respective leads evenly (Before Midnight and The Spectacular Now), so it’s not as if The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby is the first film to do that this year. However, it is the first film to do what it does. Not just this year. Period.
Here we have a tragic film that combines moments of dramedy with the ending line of a depressing poem asking where it all went wrong. This film is unique because it is actually a two part film. One part, titled Him, is the story captured through the male protagonist’s perspective (played by James McAvoy). Her, appropriately, shows the story from the female protagonist’s point of view (played by Jessica Chastain). However, there isn’t a particular order you can watch these films, as you can watch one before the other and get something new out of it. At the Toronto International Film Festival, the movie(s) was premiered with Him preceding Her, and the following day Her was shown before Him. This unique experience allows different questions to be raised depending on which film you watch first. Whether or not situations happen exactly the same in both films or if they happen differently depending on the character’s retelling, the end result has both main characters on an even playing field just as justifiable in their ways as the other is.
I watched Her first, so my experience about the overarching question (where is Eleanor Rigby [Chastain] and what is going on in her mind?) is answered right away with a very powerful opening. This opening shot works both as a knock of ones senses if it’s virtually the first shot they see, or if it’s the beginning after the halfway point. It is not an unusual opening, and is actually quite familiar in some films. However, the way it is shot, put together, and presented is simply gorgeous, as is the entire project. This story is much more poetic and full of long, vulnerable shots without ever being lethargic. Despite being around the same time length as Him, it feels longer, but never in a bad way. It’s a deeper dive into the psychological repercussions and instinctive causations of the story. Because it is so humanistic, one or two moments seem a bit silly (such as when Rigby is fighting with her sister), but it captures just how a fight may have happened in reality, and having it compared to similar scenes in Him just mirrors how each character would approach the situation and thus beauty can be found in even some of the more awkward moments.
Her is exactly as she is: Stuck in a daze. Characters pop up here and there, but we find ourselves unable to leave the trance Chastain is stuck in. Her flashbacks don’t just appear; They loom into the scene like a foggy intruder. As a combined package, Her adds to the plot of the entire story. By itself, however, Her is mostly a character study in every good sense of the term. It may be more simplistic with how it carries itself, but most of it is about reflection, being stuck in a state of mind, and the challenge of exiting the depths of depression. It doesn’t have to fully state what is going on. You know fully well and will for nothing but the best for her.
Him is the same story but from the husband’s perspective. Connor (McAvoy) is the kind of guy that never shows his true emotions on his sleeve. He will invite everyone to have a good time despite being in the worst position. Of course he will snap once in a while, but most of the time, Connor will avoid the negativities of the situation. Thus, Him is more lighthearted and fast paced. It rarely has long establishing shots. Instead it is upbeat with cut after cut to steady along the movie as a fighting force. Her is stuck in a linear way of being questionable about life and ones priorities. Him is the movie that insists one should take action and not wallow in misery. Like Her, Him has the odd awkward comedic moment, except here it is more frequent. It’s simply because Connor is surrounded by goofballs for most of his story. These moments never get annoying, however, but they do get more noticeable which is the only reason why Her is a very small bit better than Him.
Having said that, Him may be a more earnest look, because it stares the problems square in the face. With Her, you may find yourself following Eleanor’s tracks, With Him, you can basically see the response of more people involved, despite there being an equal amount of supporting characters in both films; They are just used differently. Him is much more plot driven and dramedy-like, as opposed to being a tragedy with funny moments. It is a nice film, sweet at times, and hard hitting at others, but it ultimately works at its very best when it is compared to Her. It never tries to steal the show (after all, the movies are named after the female character and are mostly about why she is feeling the way she is feeling), and it fits in almost perfectly.
As a combined effort, this three hour movie is captivating and moving, even when one movie has a faster pace than the other. Both movies have similar supporting casts but flipped around. Eleanor has a few family members and a teacher by her side, where as Connor has only a father yet a few co working friends in his story. Eleanor seeks companionship through the teacher, played by Viola Davis, and tends to feel uncomfortable with her family, where as Connor’s father, played by Ciaran Hinds, offers the typical bittersweet advice only a father can give while his friends get a bit of the picture but never the candid truth as they work best as a means of escape. Both McAvoy and Chastain deliver heartfelt and moving performances, with Chastain continuing her streak as one of our generation’s best actresses and McAvoy giving his best performance of his career thus far. Connor’s best friend, played by Bill Hader, is funny, charmingly awkward, and played very well, where as Eleanor’s teaching mentor (Davis) is an absolutely brilliant performance that just reminds us that it’s shocking that Davis has not won an Academy Award yet. Both character’s fathers, Hinds and William Hurt (playing Eleanor’s dad) are wonderful anchors that are subtle and reliable but never monotone and passable. The rest of the supporting characters work well in showing how the two leads react to society, situations, and overall life in general.
Ned Benson’s film is a breathtaking one. It has moments of ultra realism, moments of surrealistic beauty, moving music played at always the right time, terrific acting, and a story we’ve somewhat seen before but done well. Most of all, his two film experiment works, and is a wonderful exercise for any cinema fan. It shows hope when it comes to romantic films, and is a three hour project that, hey, I’m actually willing to check out again as soon as possible. It goes to show that reevaluating an event or two, especially from different sides, may sometimes create not just a better understanding of the situation but also a bigger appreciation of life and its intricacies.