Eileen, starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway, is an engage, slightly pulpy treat that proved to be a Sundance highlight.
PLOT: Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie) is a depressed young woman living a dreary existence in 1960s Boston. She is a single mother to her abusive, alcoholic father (Shea Whigham), and works as a secretary at a boys’ prison. Her life changes when the prison’s new psychiatrist turns out to be an alluring young woman (Anne Hathaway), unlike anyone Eileen has ever met.
REVIEW: Based upon the above synopsis, one might expect this to be a companion piece to Todd Haynes’ excellent Carol, which told a period love story between two women shackled by their repressive era. Eileen isn’t that movie. It might be sold as such, but it is William Oldroyd’s (Lady Macbeth) movie that will surprise you – unless of course you have read the book by Ottessa Mohfegh. The movie’s third act twist changes its genre and takes it into more pulpy territory. It’s a beautiful transition that the director and cast masterfully execute. Yet, part of the fun is not knowing exactly where it’s going, so this review will avoid spoilers.
Even before the twist, though, Oldroyd’s film is terrifically entertaining. Thomasin McKenzie is a star. While she could have played Eileen as mousy, she has an edge to her right from the start, talking back to her nasty fellow employees and taking coffee breaks to sneak away and indulge in a bit of self-gratification.
By contrast, Anne Hathaway, plays a more stylized role. She is bold and stylish, looking her best. Eileen must find her a glimpse into a different kind of life. Hathaway’s character has hidden depths. It suggests that she is investigating a local case in which one of her patients murdered his father. Eileen’s father dubbed him a psychopath after he was a local cop hero. But there seems to be more to this story. Hathaway and McKenzie both play their roles perfectly. They even add a little bit of humor when necessary, which is something that not many people could do.
Shea Whigham is perhaps the most hateful father character we’ve ever seen. Although he is not physically abusive, he makes Eileen feel so bad that she daydreams about destroying his brains. He also seems to be losing his mind, with him taking to waving his gun at random children in the street, leading to a sympathetic cop character (played by Yellowstone‘s Jefferson White) demanding that Eileen take custody of his weapon, which may or may not be a grand idea.
Oldroyd directs Eileen with a welcome sense of humour. While one might expect a film like this to be austere, Eileen is anything but. It’s beautifully shot, fast-paced, and includes some welcome black comedy moments. Oldroyd is an actor’s showcase, but he has a lot of style. Given the cast, the film could be a commercial hit once folks start talking about the twist.
Indeed, it was a late surprise at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. I was expecting a tragedy. Instead, I found a movie that kept me on the edge. It’s a great potboiler with excellent performances by McKenzie and Hathaway. You may not think a film like this is for you, but give it a chance.