The Plot: Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie) is a mousy young woman who works in a local youth detention centre. Lacking confidence in herself, she mostly remains unobserved and longs for attention. It doesn’t help that she has an alcoholic former cop for a father in Jim (Shea Whigham), who is intent on drinking himself into oblivion. The arrival of the older and more wordly Rebecca (Anne Hathaway) at work changes things though. Rebecca takes an interest in Eileen and the pair hang out. Eileen’s personality starts to blossom in Rebecca’s presence, but there is a dark cloud approaching…
The Verdict: Lady Macbeth didn’t just bring Florence Pugh to the fore as an actor to be reckoned with. It also marked out William Oldroyd as a debut director of note, with his ability to finetune his actors and deliver a spellbinding story for the ages. It must have been tempting for him to take whatever was offered to him, but instead he’s bided his time and after a 7-year wait he’s returned to the director’s chair with ostensible thriller Eileen. There are some signs of directorial rustiness in the interim though, given the creakiness evident at the joints. Eileen has a lot going for it – Oldroyd’s name to begin with, along with the excellent Thomasin McKenzie (One Night In Soho) and a purring Anne Hathaway in a role that is well suited to her abilities as an emotive actor who disappears into her character. It even has touches of Patricia Highsmith’s Carol and a noirish tinge to its proceedings.
Adapted by Luke Goebel and Otessa Moshfegh from the latter’s novel, Eileen is essentially a transformational piece about a young woman’s journey from apparent innocence to confidence and then liberation. That’s something chewy to work with as an actor and McKenzie does a commendable job of making that arc work as a rounded piece of acting. Eileen has occasional flights of fancy and dreams of doing something that she wouldn’t ordinarily do and that’s an intriguing prospect for an audience. There’s no faulting McKenzie, but the issue at the core here is more to do with the film around her. Oldroyd promises a lot but never really delivers in the way that he should. It’s a film that seems to be suffering from an identity crisis throughout. Is it a comedy, drama, latent romance, thriller, film noir or even a bit of horror? Maybe it’s all of them, but then it’s less than the sum of its parts and doesn’t add up as an effective film.
Oldroyd lurches from one genre to the next, never really settling on any one genre in particular. This is evident in the third act, when the story takes a sinister but jarring turn which doesn’t come across as credible. The characters of Eileen and Rebecca would need to be more developed by that point to properly understand their motivations. It then just vaguely limps to an indifferent conclusion that isn’t earned. Is that it then? There are occasional glimpses of the film this could have been, should have been. It’s surprisingly funny and light on its feet when it wants to be, even when dealing with weighty themes of alcoholism and smalltown crime. As with Eileen herself, the film needs to be more confident in its abilities and identity and have something interesting to say. There’s not much to say here though, given the mishmash of genres and tones which muddy the waters further. Consider Eileen to be an interesting misfire, but nothing more than that.
Rating: 2 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Doesn't add up
Eileen (USA / UK / South Korea / 15A / 97 mins)
In short: Doesn't add up
Directed by William Oldroyd.
Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Sam Nivola, Owen Teague.