In two minutes, the Beatles captured the empty life of sad singleton Eleanor Rigby. Director Ned Benson is devoting three films to her namesake -- a New York divorcée (Jessica Chastain) -- and this first entry, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, barely explains her at all. Wan and adrift, if she disappeared any more from her own movie, everything between the credits would be a black hole.
Them is about the collapse of Eleanor’s marriage to her husband, Conor (James McAvoy), a relationship that ends in a splash when she jumps off a bridge. The hospital plasters her broken arm and hands her off to her folks in Connecticut, who nervously take Conor's photos off the wall, disconnect Eleanor’s cell phone, and try to distract her from another suicide attempt. (That the parents, played by Isabelle Huppert and William Hurt, named their daughter after rock's most miserable spinster implies that good judgment doesn't run in the family.)
Benson teases out the reasons for the split like we don't deserve to know the facts. It takes 20 minutes before we even know Eleanor and Conor were married, and longer still to learn that they were shattered by a cheap Hollywood trope: an offscreen dead child. A wedding and a funeral are plot points, not mysteries -- they shouldn’t be spliced as surprise gotchas into a script this naturalistic. Just because a film holds back the truth doesn't make the truth suspenseful. It merely shortchanges the filmmaker and the audience from exploring what that truth means, the gulf between a quickie flick that blurts out "The butler did it!" and a psychological drama that explores what was wrong with the butler all along.