Ned Benson‘s The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby was first screened at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, to hooting, hollering, and an air of general acclaim. So when this year’s Cannes Film Festival unveiled its lineup and Eleanor Rigby made the cut, I doubt anyone’s eyes were boggling out of their head, Tex Avery cartoon-style.
Except for one pesky detail that made absolutely zero sense. On the official Cannes documentation, Eleanor Rigby is marked with the running time of one hour and fifty-nine minutes. Confused? You should be — not only is Eleanor Rigby not two hours long, but it’s not even one movie.
To get the full Eleanor Rigby experience, you’ve got to watch it twice. Sort of. First, you see The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His, which chronicles the collapse of an extremely good-looking marriage from the perspective of its husband, played by James McAvoy. Then you watch the same movie again, but now it’s got a subtitle of Hers and it follows the missus, played by Jessica Chastain. Or I guess you could watch Hers and then His, probably, if you felt the need to rebel against traditional gender roles in the mildest way possible.
Well, thanks to Deadline, we’ve got an answer to that hour fifty-nine question. Eleanor Rigby is no longer two movies. Now, it’s three.
His and Hers still exist on their own, but now there’s Them (shouldn’t it be “Theirs?”), which is a more traditional-sounding two-hour cut that meshes His and Hers together into a shorter and more convenient package. Oddly enough, even with the presence of Harvey Weinstein looming over the film (his Weinstein Company bought Eleanor Rigby at Toronto last year) the cuts were entirely Benson’s idea. The director shares, “At Toronto, it was this hanging question that lingered. It wasn’t until this year that I saw with my editor and my producing partner Cassandra Kulukundis and then talked with Harvey Weinstein about it, and he gave me the opportunity to see if it an omnipotent version could function as its own film. We got in a room and created the film that will premiere in Cannes.”
And just in case you’ve considered the very real possibility that Weinstein snipers were trained on Benson and forcing him to say those words, he clarifies it even further: “Harvey never set foot in the room.”
Still, I’d keep an eye out for little red dots when it premieres at Cannes.
Here’s how the releasing will go down. Them will premiere at Cannes. And on the film’s September 26 release date, Them will be the only option. Some time later (roughly four to six weeks), His + Hers will get a limited run in select art house theaters, as is befitting a three hour slog through relationship ennui.
Unconventional films typically get conventionalized before they see release — remember when the producers of Nymphomaniac yelled a resounding “NO” to the question, “can mainstream theaters handle five and a half continuous hours of people doin’ it?” But unlike the Nymphomaniac cuts, which didn’t affect the basic premise of the film, I can already hear the gentle “whoosh” of Them missing the whole point of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. What good is a film about seeing things entirely from one side, if you intersperse both sides together? Suddenly, the gimmick (and the big selling point of the movie) is gone.
It’s like if Richard Linklater released a second cut of Boyhood that just subbed in child actors and old-age makeup in place of a twelve-year shoot. Would it be interesting to watch after seeing the real Boyhood? Yeah, probably. But it also stomps all over what makes Boyhood unique.
It’s good that Benson created Them from a place of love, and not coercion from the hulking robo-editors I’m sure The Weinstein Company has hidden away somewhere. And, hey — shave off a good hour from the running time and more people will probably see it, which has got to be a plus. But count me among the “jumbo-sized Eleanor Rigby” camp.