Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 2013. Unison Films, Kim and Jim Productions, Division Films, Dreambridge Films, Myriad Pictures, Standard Deviations. Screenplay by Ned Benson. Cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt. Produced by Ned Benson, Jessica Chastain, Cassandra Kulukundis, Todd J. Labarowski, Emanuel Michael. Music by Son Lux. Production Design by Kelly McGehee. Costume Design by Stacey Battat. Film Editing by Kristina Boden. Toronto International Film Festival Awards 2013.
This two-part film, originally slated to be released as two separate features, revolves around one occurrence, the dissolution of a relationship between a man and a woman following the death of their infant. In the first part, “Him”, James McAvoy fills the empty spaces of his apartment and his failing bar by looking desperately for ex-wife Jessica Chastain and arguing with his bon vivant father (Ciarán Hinds). In the second, “Her”, Chastain tries to move on to a new chapter of her life by pursuing a new education (under professor Viola Davis) and reflecting on her upbringing by moving back in with her parents (William Hurt and a deliciously droll Isabelle Huppert). The He Said She Said gimmick is absorbing and well-conceived, setting up a situation and then counterpointing it with further information to show how misleading fiction can be in manipulating our sympathies. Benson puts the concept ahead of the material, however, and there are many scenes that feel like they are filling time in order to make the whole thing work. The Him section is far more captivating than the Her, with McAvoy’s painful longing so much more compelling than Chastain’s calm acceptance of the necessity for change (Benson thinks he is giving his characters equal observation but his sympathies are clearly slanted). The films don’t work separately on their own, and no one should have to pay twice to get the whole thing; it could easily be cut down to regular feature length without sacrificing the best material. It’s never boring, however, particularly given the caliber of the cast and the fact that they all play to the best of their abilities, balanced evenly by Chastain’s emotional subtlety, McAvoy’s fiery indignation, Hinds’ dry wit, Davis’ cerebral good sense and Huppert’s loopy indulgence (she can never dole out advice without a glass of wine in hand) combining to make a perfect whole. Benson followed the Toronto premiere of the two separate films with an edited, one-part version (labeled “Them”) which screened at Cannes and will likely be the most popular version for release.