The Bath Water with the Baby
“Trilogy” is loosely tossed around when sales inspire a prequel and sequel or Roman-numeraled or coloned-subtitle addition after the same bankable title. But the term does not apply to The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them followed by Him alongside Her. These are three takes of the same film from writer/director/co-producer Ned Benson, making his feature début here.
Although the first title is released a month in advance of the other two, paying separately to see all three, or even two, is throwing good money after bad. Cannes, Toronto and the Film Society of Lincoln Center notwithstanding, they add up to a single okay but not outstanding film, the two companions of each of them no more than the others with out-takes spliced in.
Co-producer Jessica Chastain’s title character, Eleanor Rigby, is supposed to call up “all the lonely people” even if she is improbably ignorant of the Lennon-McCartney lyrics for which she is named. Not necessarily in chronological order, or any order, she jumps from a bridge, gets fished from the East River and hospitalized and returns to her parents’ house in pricey Westport (though they cannot afford Montauk).
Over five hours eleven minutes if you buy into the triptych gambit, it is revealed that she is depressed after seven years of marital happiness with new-bar owner Conor Ludlow (James McAvoy) in their typical movie apartment young New Yorkers cannot afford, either. A tragic “something difficult” has turned things sour, although the husband has soldiered on and spends much of the film(s) chasing her down in hopes of recapturing their bliss. Revealed here and there, early and late, the catastrophic event has devastated this early thirtyish couple as well as his divorced, abandoned, unhappy stoic father Spencer (Ciarán Hinds) in a townhouse to kill for, and also her parents Mary and Julian and single-mom sister Katy (Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, Jess Weixler), who tread even more on eggshells after her failed suicide.
Former university brat Eleanor is steered to a course given by daddy’s former faculty colleague Vivian Friedman (Viola Davis), crusty and suspicious for a moment but warming to the younger woman, bonding with her over burgers, and, her own same-age son estranged and a continent westward, dispensing counsel to return to Paris to complete an abandoned dissertation.
With moping Conor’s bar folding, his friends and employees (Bill Hader, Nina Arianda, Nikki M. James) are offering unwanted unheeded emotional advice and sexual consolation, and the car he rents to drive aimlessly with half-contrite El has broken windshield wipers which miraculously return to working order. Such editing slipups do not matter, nor do different clothing or positions or locations from one “version” to another or the worst-ever special-effects liberated firefly. It may bother the thoughtful, however, that the camera eye, which ought not be an unreliable or lying recorder-narrator, provides a different last-second “Hey!” for Her.
Professor Friedman ridicules her own don’t-walk-away chicken soupy homily as soon as it leaves her mouth, and weary Spencer is not convinced by his own shooting-star analogy. Not achieving “its own entity with its own rhythm, themes and ideas” but unashamedly one film for the price of three, in contrast The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them -- like its replicants -- treats itself with unalloyed and unearned gravitas.
(Released by The Weinstein Company and rated “R” by MPAA.)