“This Is Where I Leave You” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” — two film reviews by Gary Chew
Two movies dealing with an on-again-off again marriage and other familial foibles compete for ticket sales this week; one gorged with humor, the other replete with emotion and heartache as well as fine, memorable acting.
The more humorous movie offers life’s exigencies such as a death as it opens and all the kids coming home to mourn the passing of the beloved. It features a character who’s trying to get pregnant, but with no success, and a really funny scene where some of the “mourners” get really ripped on weed.
No, it’s not “The Big Chill #2.” Remember, the original had a funeral up front with two of the bereaved smoking pot on the way to the service, and a female wanting to have a baby. Actors doing these parts were William Hurt and Mary Kay Place. The film being reviewed here is Shawn Levy‘s “This Is Where I Leave You.”
Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Rose Byrne and other actors much younger than Hurt and Place are up front in this movie. It’s funny and “overboard” Jewish. And would you believe a million laughs — with intermittent tenderness?
The second film has a more intriguing title, “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them.” It’s darker and rather avant garde in terms of how it was constructed by writer/director Ned Benson. Two other versions of the film were released in 2013, except each of them — with the same title – are tagged with either “Him” or “Her.” Obviously, the first of those is from the male perspective; the following version, gives the woman’s point of view.
Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy give outstanding performances as Eleanor and Connor, a couple who’ve experienced an awful loss in their young marriage. It’s about the working through of that loss and how it affects the peripheral characters who play family members. William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert play Eleanor’s parents and Ciarán Hinds is Connor’s father. Other talented back up actors include Viola Davis as a university professor and Bill Hader in the role of Connor’s chef at the small bar and restaurant Connor operates in New York City.
“Eleanor Rigby” plays cat and mouse with you as it unfolds what’s gone before in the story prior to the film’s beginning. The exposition dribbles in uneventfully and lazily across the narrative. Primarily, Benson’s movie is a heartrending character study of the couple and others surrounding the pair. For me, it moved not at any rapid pace, yet kept tight rein on my attention span.
One extraordinary scene (there are many) is with Chastain and Hurt as daughter and father. He’s recounting to his child how for a few horrifying seconds, he loses her in the briny waves of the tricky Atlantic, as he’s decided to take the water with her in his arms when she is only two. Dad quickly becomes aware that she is near his feet underwater, and safely retrieves her. Hurt’s character says something to the effect that “it was the most horrifying and most wonderful few seconds of my life.” The scene is quite powerful. Nobody is better at that kind of stuff than William Hurt. Chastain gives a riveting facial response as the father tells the daughter he’s never mentioned that fleeting moment in the ocean to anyone until now.
Another scene that won’t leave your head is when Eleanor and Connor both, simultaneously, break down and forcefully weep in each others’ arms. More moving moments superbly acted.
“This Is Where I Leave You” is mostly for laughs. “Eleanor Rigby,” minus Paul McCartney, is one for those who want to get serious. But there is a Cyndi Lauper song in the humorous picture.