‘Eleanor Rigby’ Director Admits Mistakes, Embraces the ‘Slim Chance’ to Show His Original Movie

After second-guessing himself with a shorter version of his Jessica Chastain/James McAvoy drama, Ned Benson can finally show the movie he set out to make

Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
The Weinstein Company

“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” premiered at one film festival 13 months ago, re-premiered at another five months ago and opened theatrically four weeks ago.

But not until today can most moviegoers see the version of the film that writer-director Ned Benson, producer Cassandra Kulukundis and star and producer Jessica Chastain set out to make.

In a long, strange saga that started with one screenplay, turned into two movies and then somehow morphed into a third version, “Eleanor Rigby” is finally back where it was in its triumphant premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September, 2013 – with two films, subtitled “Him” and “Her,” screening back-to-back as a single three-hour experience in 10 cities around the country.

Also read: Inside Jessica Chastain and Ned Benson’s Battle to Make ‘Eleanor Rigby’

But this “opening day,” a modest rollout by the Weinstein Company, comes a month after a truncated, combined version of the films, subtitled “Them,” opened across the country to disappointing business.

“I don’t want to be a Monday-morning quarterback,” writer-director Ned Benson told TheWrap this week. “I gave them something that nobody knew what to do with.

“What’s sad to me is that we live in an era in cinema where we don’t trust that that kind of film can work – myself included. And now there may only be a small sliver of a chance for people to see the movie the way it was meant to be experienced.”

TheWrap has written lots of words about the film over the past year (most of those words coming from me), but I feel compelled to come back one more time to say that the “Him/Her” version – or the “Her/Him” version; the order in which the two parts are shown flips from one screening to the next – is absolutely, unequivocally the way to see “Eleanor Rigby.”

From this perspective, “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her” is a magical and shattering cinematic experience, a film (or films) that grows in richness and nuance and showcases two remarkable and complex performances.

Here’s the new “Him” and “Her” trailer:
(Read more after the video)

The film opens on Friday at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas in Los Angeles, where Chastain and co-star Jess Weixler will be doing a Q&A after the 8 p.m. screening; at two theaters in New York City, where Benson will be talking on Saturday after the 4 p.m. screening at the Landmark Sunshine Theatre and the 7 p.m. at the Paris Theatre; and in theaters in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Washington D.C.

Benson’s story of a married couple whose relationship fractures in the wake of a tragedy began with a screenplay from the husband’s perspective; when he showed it to his longtime friend (and sometime girlfriend) Chastain, she asked him to flesh out the female character, which resulted in an entirely new script. Against the advice of pretty much everybody they knew, they made two films – which was only possible because Chastain’s career had exploded as they were trying to find backers for the project.

Also read: Jessica Chastain Calls Out Hollywood, Marvel: ‘Where is the Scarlett Johansson Superhero Movie?’

“This is a personal movie that draws not only from my past, but Jessica’s and my relationship, my friends’ relationships,” said Benson. “I wanted to say that as difficult as it can be, love can endure and you can rediscover each other through memory, circumstance, coincidence.”

In Toronto, the filmmakers bathed in accolades, and Chastain, Benson and Kulukundis swore to me that whoever bought it (the Weinstein deal hadn’t been made when we first spoke) would definitely release it as two movies – that it would never be edited down to a single film.

But it was, with the “Them” version premiering at Cannes.

“I made a really difficult movie,” admitted Benson. “A slow-moving movie, a hard subject, an adult relationship film. I think we all walked away from Toronto thinking that there was something there – and then I second-guessed it.”

The “Them” version – which I liked, though TheWrap’s Inkoo Kang didn’t – was perhaps confusing, because the film’s trailer played with the idea of the two perspectives, offering different takes on the same scene. But the film didn’t do that; instead, it pulled scenes from both movies to construct a single narrative.

Also read: Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ Is a Beautiful Movie – But Does it Measure Up to the Original Version?

“The problem was that it was marketed on this idea of different perspectives,” said Benson, “but it didn’t deliver that. Ultimately, ‘Them’ is a film that I didn’t write or direct. It was created by me in an editing room, and I take responsibility for it.

“But I know what I wanted in my heart, which is for people to see the movie I created and shot: a 190-minute film about perspective in a relationship. Whether that should have been the film that came out first, I don’t know.”

With “Them” playing to lackluster business in September, “Him” and “Her” might look like damaged goods to some moviegoers, like the leftovers from a project that didn’t work. “In this day and age, you only get one shot,” conceded Benson.

But now the director is getting a second shot. It’s a small one, but a shot nonetheless, and an opportunity for his bold and beautiful achievement to not be shortchanged by the decision – which he was a part of – to put a slighter, more conventional version out first.

See video: Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy Offer 2 Sides of the Same Love Story in ‘Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (Video)

“I made the movie I wanted to make, and I’m lucky that it made it into theaters,” Benson said. “There’s probably a slim window to see the version of the movie that I and my collaborators want to be seen, but there is a chance. And I hope people take that chance.”