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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Secret Ingredient in THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM is Viola Davis

Debut filmmaker Ned Benson's cinematic ballad, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM, has all the ingredients to be a poignant film--except for its rather basic plot that does little to elevate the film's familiar story of an estranged couple whose relationship is suffocated by grief, trauma and a relentless love. The pacing is inspired, the lighting is good, the two main actors--Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy--are fine, but it lacks an imprint that separates it from so many others.

That is, until Viola Davis shows up on the screen.

The actress (Doubt, The Help) isn't even the focal point of the film, and is barely mentioned in any of its commercials, but she leaves such an impression on you that makes you wish she had more screen time. Davis plays a college professor who kinda slumps into Eleanor's (Chastain) life right when she's at a crossroads, and ends up shattering the stereotypical perception of the strong collegiate black woman who's as in as much command of her professional career as her personal life. As we learn that Eleanor has run away from her life after the devastating loss of her infant son, we simultaneously realize that Professor Friedman (Davis) is emotionally detached from her own life. She bares a seen-it-all-and-I'm-unimpressed look on her face as Eleanor fights to find a new identity. There isn't a whole lot of detail in the dialogue, but it is what Friedman doesn't mention--or what she begins to mention and quickly pivots away from--when we begin to understand that she's been through hell and back and while she's burdened by that it's also a comfort to her. You want to know more about her, but at the same time there's a relatability to what she chooses not to say.

In fact, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM is at its best during the quiet moments--the dialogue seems to only get in the way of the emotions between the characters. Whether it's Davis and Chastain sharing a mutual silence on opposite sides of a desk, or Chastain and McAvoy sitting on the sidewalk with a million thoughts between them, the film manages to successfully tell an absorbing story in between its sometimes flaccid dialogue. Son Lux's musical score further punctuates the feeling of each scene--from its somber serenades to its large scale melodies.

But still, as I watched the film I continued to think about Professor Friedman and what could have possible been her journey. If there is a song that could define her story, what would it be? If she could disappear, where would she choose to go? Who would she choose to be?

I guess we'd have to wait for a Disappearance of Professor Friedman for those answers. Until then, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM is a lovely enough film even though it may not stick with you much long after the ending credits.

Rating: B (*** out of *****)

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM opens in select theaters Friday, and will be in theaters nationwide September 19th. Watch the trailer here.


Daniel said...

Viola Davis is one of those actresses that can really elevate any film or show. A shame they didn't take better advantage of her.

The Gold Knight said...

Great review, Candice!

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