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A Great Approach and Objective, with a Sloppy Execution
Yesterday, I went to see The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby for a pre-release screening by Louisiana International Film Festival. As the directorial debut for Ned Benson, this movie stars James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain as a young married couple that eventually crumbles. It is a combination of three short films: Him, told from the perspective of James McAvoy's character, Connor, Her, told from the perspective of Jessica Chastain's character, Eleanor, and Them, which features their relationship.
Truth be told, I wanted to like this movie a lot more. Some of the parts were very intriguing, and then some other parts were like watching paint dry. The romantic scenes with both of them together were the most interesting and fascinating. Their chemistry together was great, and their connection was felt and natural. With the two separate perspectives, however, I was drifting in and out. At one point, I even dozed off. Both perspectives were unbalanced, as I felt like there were more parts with Eleanor than there were with Connor. Or at least, I got more out of Eleanor than Connor. From Connor's side, it was a decent tale, but there wasn't a lot of his story coming out, and it wasn't very exciting or interesting, even with the addition of Stuart (Bill Hader). Eleanor's side was a lot more dominant, and it was a mixed bag. It provided more interest, thanks to the subplot with Eleanor and her sister Katy (Jess Weixler). At the same time, some of that was repelling. The actions and behaviors that I got came across as redundant, childish and stand-offish. In other words, the subplot has a yin and a yang.
The approach that Ned Benson took was very original and rare. He built a full-length story out of three short films that all tie in together. It's a very inventive approach, and someday, there's going to be a filmmaker out there that gets it 100% right. Sadly, for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, the narrative structure felt disoriented. As a whole, the movie was lost in translation. The objective was understandable, which was to showcase how they fell in love and where the marriage fell apart, but it was tough to interpret that from beginning to end. Pulp Fiction is one of many examples that pull off a great movie with a non-linear narrative. This movie was nowhere near that level, but it did a good job in its efforts. Also, there were more things that I felt needed to be elaborated on. The story was lacking a lot of things that would've carried out the premise successfully. Instead, it only felt somewhat unfulfilled.
If I can separate those short films and judge them by themselves, they would've been very successful. They are very genuine stories, they had some almost superb acting performances, and their intentions were very smart. In my personal opinion, taking these three short films and merging them to create a 2-hour movie resulted in a jumbled narrative. The objective of the story got lost in the shuffle, the plan went halfway, or maybe too many ways, and in the end, there was some emptiness left inside. Not just for our two lead characters, but also for the viewer that went in with high expectations. Perhaps, they needed to be combined in order to tell the same story, but it would've been better off as a side-by-side collection of short films, or at least it should've been given a better structure. Yet, this was the movie that I ended up getting, which was OK overall, but I expected more. Eh, it happens.
The Survivors (1983)
The Survivors paired Robin Williams, who by then had two previous movies under his belt, with legendary actor Walter Matthau. From the beginning, the movie was already acting stupid. Robin arrives at work only to get fired by a parrot. A PARROT! The thought of that idea is dumber than actually seeing it. Next, Walter goes out of a job after Robin arrives at his gas station and refills the car all wrong, leading to an explosion caused by Walter's cigarette rolling over to the spillage. If you thought that was stupid, they tease that part too many times before it eventually happens. By then, you realize what to expect. The entire movie was an annoying tread that drags the joke on for too long, and most of the time, the jokes don't make sense. Most of these scenes were mindless, awkward, boring, and confusing. There was one big laugh that I got out of the movie, and leave it up to Robin Williams to provide it. After the criminal traps Walter in his bedroom in the middle of the night, Robin arrives at the house, hoping to talk to him. His daughter goes up to the bedroom to notify him and gets trapped with the criminal. At that moment, Robin realizes what's going on and fakes his departure from the house. Then, he takes a lamp stick and hits the criminal over the head. Now, his rambling goes too long after that, but the stuff that happened there, that was clever.