STARRING: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, Ciaran Hinds, Bill Hader, Nina Arianda DIRECTOR: Ned Benson
THE SKINNY: Married couple Conor (McAvoy) and Eleanor (Chastain) split after she attempts suicide following the death of their young son. Eleanor moves in with her father (Hurt) and mother (Huppert) in the suburbs, where she passes her time by taking an art theory class. Conor moves in with his father (Hinds) and tries to keep his struggling restaurant afloat. Will they ever get back together?
A Mars look by Jason Johnson
I try to avoid movies about parents struggling with a child's death.
This sort of subject matter is very sad, and I don't want to be sad.
I find it a rather facile and lazy way for filmmakers to create drama.
If you want puddles of tears forming in theatre aisles, this is the easiest way to achieve it.
That said, Eleanor Rigby turns out to be an engaging flick.
Writer-Director Benson has a delicate touch, and he doesn't allow his protagonists to wallow in misery.
His real concern is how the small kindnesses of our loved ones can help us get through the worst tragedies.
Benson obviously lifted the film's title from The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby - "All the lonely people / Where do they all come from?" - but he could have just as easily used With A Little Help From My Friends.
There are many beautiful conversations, so many lovely little moments.
I was touched by Eleanor's awkward dealings with her French and forever-tipsy mother, who informs Eleanor that she was an accident, and not to take their relationship "too personally".
"Don't worry, I won't," says Eleanor.
This isn't a movie for everyone.
A Venus look by Joanne Soh
It plods along slowly, as plot points are revealed layer by layer.
We know Eleanor and Conor have experienced some personal tragedy.
But what is it? And do we really care what happened?
The once-loving couple's loss is not revealed until midway, by which time you may have lost interest.
This drama wouldn't have worked if not for the strong performances from its powerhouse cast.
Benson scores big-time with his former lover Chastain, who decided to come on board here also as a producer.
She is in her element, making her depressed and lonely Eleanor empathetic.
McAvoy delivers brilliantly, but his role isn't as fleshed out as Chastain's, so you don't quite connect with him.
Perhaps Benson wants us to check out the other two instalments of his Eleanor Rigby three-parter, Him and Her, to get the whole picture, as they tell the story from the protagonists' differing perspectives.
While he doesn't exactly hit the nail on the head with Them, Benson deserves much credit for his ambition, considering the Eleanor Rigby movies are his feature film debut and his attempt to paint a realistic view of marriage is courageous.
THE CONSENSUS: If you're in the mood for love and loss, this date movie's a downer - in a good way.
This article was first published on December 31, 2014.
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