My review of “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival + TRAILER

On Monday, September 9, 2013 I attended a "Work In Progress" screening of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her at the Toronto International Film Festival. The sold-out event was held in the historic 1561-seat Elgin Theatre (Visa Screening Room). The film was a selection in the Special Presentation section.

Although this had not been exhibited prior to TIFF, and could have been called the "World Premiere," it was labeled a "Work In Progress" (WIP) for various reasons. Writer/director Ned Benson’s The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her is actually two films, shown back-to-back (without a break), that run three hours and ten minutes. The same story is told from the perspective of each of the two main characters, “Him” (Conor Ludlow, played by James McAvoy) and “Her” (the titular Eleanor Rigby, played by Jessica Chastain, who also produced). 

One reason it could be called a WIP is uncertainty about what the finished product will look like. Occasionally a movie is in that category because it still needs some additional post-production -- sound effects or color timing, for example. In addition, the filmmakers may still be tweaking the movie's future theatrical presentation. The screening I attended showed the "Him" film followed by "Her." The order was reversed in the second showing. The audience’s impressions will most likely vary depending on the order in which they’re shown. Either way, the story is simply elegant, following two young New Yorkers through the ups and downs of a relationship in turmoil.

McAvoy has become one of our most accomplished actors in a relatively short period of time. He first came to my attention as a university student in Starter for 10, an underrated British comedy that was one of m y favorites of the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. He went on to appear in a number of my festival Top Picks, including the landmark World War II-era romance Atonement (Toronto 2007), for which he was nominated for a BAFTA and Golden Globe. Chastain took my breath away as the devoted wife of the mentally ill Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, my #1 film from Sundance 2011 and one of my favorites of the past 10 years. She received back-to-back Oscar nominations in 2012 and 2013 for Zero Dark Thirty and The Help.

The chemistry between the two is palpable. They helped develop the script together and the result is authentically heartwarming. Notable in support is a cast of accomplished performers, including Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Jess Weixler, William Hurt, Ciarán Hinds, Archie Panjabi, and iconic French actress Isabelle Huppert.    

Each “film” has its own distinct look and photographic style. “His” story projects a cool color palette of blues, greens, and grays, with harsher contrasts and a more distant, observant camera placement. “Her” tale is warm, filled with amber, red, orange, and yellow, with a softer focus and more intimate cinematography relying more on close-ups and reverse angles than wide master shots. Director of Photography Christopher Blauvelt is an industry veteran, having worked on many of my festival favorites over the years including A Single Man (Toronto 2009), Restless (Toronto 2011), Nobody Walks and Goats (both from Sundance 2012), and this year’s fest hit The Bling Ring. He served as a camera operator alongside the late iconic cinematographer Harris Savides on many of Gus Van Sant’s films, including Gerry, Elephant, Last Days, and Paranoid Park. His experience with Savides and Van Sant is on display even to the casual observer, with fluid steadicam sequences, long takes, and tracking shots that were the hallmark of Savides’ style. The picture’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio is a departure from the widescreen format exhibited by 90% of the movies at this festival. It supports the cinema verité style more suited to an intimate tale of two lovers.

But the essence of the overall movie’s remarkable power is in the discovery of those little nuances that distinguish one version from the other. We aren’t simply seeing the same story told by two different people. The details vary in both language as well as substance, and that accomplishment owes itself largely to the deft hand of editor Kristina Boden. The fun is in noticing where the films depart, those occasional moments when each character’s dialogue varies from the previous version, and one can only imagine the chaos in the editing suite as Boden and director Benson tried to craft a coherent parallel but delayed narrative that wouldn’t be lost on an audience after an hour or two. Comparing the two halves turns out to be an exercise in comprehension and awareness. Viewers will notice, for example, that there’s more of her in his and less of him in hers. It’s an added delight to an already satisfying cinematic experience.        

The score is sparse and light, with composer Son Lux (Looper, Don Jon) stepping back to let the script carry the narrative cleanly. This is clearly a character-driven film and the piece gets its focus from the often-improvised dialogue of McAvoy and Chastain.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her, as exhibited in sequence, is an epic love story told in a refreshingly unique way. It’s also a loving postcard from New York, as director Benson takes full advantage of the city’s charms and photogenic backdrops. All the lonely people…where do they all belong? The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her may not answer that question, but it’s a provocative and thoughtful start.                       


NOTE: See my photos of the World Premiere Q&A with writer/director/producer Ned Benson and stars Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Jess Weixler, and Ciarán Hinds.

I selected the film for my Toronto International Film Festival Top Picks, but with qualifications -- primarily based on length.  190 minutes is quite a long time to stay in one place for a movie. Still, if you can sit through it without a break, it's magnificent. It also remains to be seen exactly how the film(s) will be shown in theaters.

The Weinstein Company (TWC) picked up U.S., Canadian, UK, and French distribution rights towards the end of the festival. As of November 23, 2013, Myriad Pictures has sold to Prokino for Germany and Austria, Imagine for Benelux, Ster Kinekor for South Africa, Praesens for Switzerland, Seven Films for Greece, Discovery for former Yugoslavia, HGC for China, and Mono Generation for Thailand. Myriad is also fielding offers for Japan, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe.

Here is the first official trailer for the film's theatrical release.


Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at

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