All the lonely people, where do they all belong? For Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain), the damaged, ill-named figure at the heart of Ned Benson’s strikingly ambitious directorial debut, that’s a riddle not easily solved. Reeling from tragedy, Eleanor hacks off her hair, re-enrolls in college classes and uproots from downtown Manhattan to the Westport, Connecticut, home of her parents (William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert, both reliably excellent), all with nary a word to her bar-owner husband, Conor (James McAvoy). While she grieves through reinvention, Conor juggles multiple losses: searching for his AWOL wife, mending his relationship with his own father (a wry, scene-stealing Ciarán Hinds) and facing the closure of the East Village haunt he runs with his best friend (Bill Hader, for comic relief).
Originally conceived and shot as a two-part, three-hour epic in the 'Rashomon' vein – one feature following her perspective, the other – Benson shaved off a cool 68 minutes and distilled the companion pieces into this digestible, wide-release version. But despite the sparkling cast and engaging, well-tuned turns from Chastain and McAvoy, the scaled-down script doesn’t carry much weight, bogged down by clunky dialogue. The recut is light on flashbacks to Eleanor and Conor’s glory days, necessary to get a true sense of the title’s 'them' and grasp what has really disappeared. Benson’s efforts have turned 'Eleanor Rigby' into an accessible, garden-variety love story, and that’s its biggest problem.