TIFF Preview: “Eleanor Rigby” is a unique, two-part relationship drama

eleanor rigby

Here is one that could go either way: “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her” sounds as if it could be transcendent, or a disaster. I won’t get to find out, but I cannot wait to hear what others think.

James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Viola Davis star in this innovative two-part film that relates a love story from two different perspectives.

Every story has two sides. The unprecedented cinematic event “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her” sets out to prove just that in this quietly realized, heart-wrenching drama from director Ned Benson.

Following a horrific tragedy, the enviable marriage between Conor (James McAvoy), a restaurant owner, and Eleanor (Jessica Chastain), a returning college student, begins to fall apart. With each day worse than the last, their connection starts deteriorating, until one day Eleanor just disappears …

Benson presents his protagonists’ experience comprehensively in two separate, feature-length chapters. While it’s essential to see both parts — a total run-time of three hours — to experience the complete picture, each chapter has its own unique tone, appropriate to its corresponding piece of the puzzle. Part mystery, part emotional drama, “Him” tells the story of a befuddled man longing to reconnect with his estranged wife. On the other hand, “Her” is a character study about a woman trying to reinvent herself.

Aided by a terrific supporting cast — Ciarán Hinds, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, Jess Weixler, William Hurt, and Isabelle Huppert — “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her” packs a strong emotional punch. Vivid cinematography and a dry, honest wit perfectly accent the top-notch acting skills of Chastain and McAvoy, both in fine form here. Evoking the long-term effects of loss, and raising questions important to anyone attempting a lasting relationship, Benson’s feature debut is personal, layered and insightful — from all perspectives.

This work in progress is designed to be viewed as episodes in any sequence, and will also be screened at the Festival in reverse order as “Her and Him” on Tuesday, September 10.

Text by Cameron Bailey; photo courtesy of TIFF