Come on Eileen

Mick Ferris

Eileen (15, 97 minutes)

How do you categorise a film that doesn’t appear to know itself exactly what it is?

Part film noir (at a push – even down to the cramped 4:3 aspect ratio), part psychological thriller in that you feel everything is building up to something but you can’t quite decide what (chances are you will still be wrong when it happens), and part arthouse flick on a shoestring, none of which have to be bad things if you get the casting and the screenplay right.

And in fairness to director William Oldroyd this comes so so close.

In mid 1960s Massachusettes, fantasist Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie), a timid 24-year old prison secretary becomes obsessed with the new psychologist, Rebecca (Anne Hathaway), who represents everything that Eileen feels she is not – a sophisticated, self assured, independent Harvard graduate with the confidence to deck a bar room drunk when he gets a bit handsy.

Meanwhile, Eileen’s own father – a former police chief turned hopeless alcoholic (Shea Whigham) following the death of his wife – tells her the only reason she exists at all is to fill a space.

The two women become unlikely friends, but is impressionable Eileen being exploited for some nefarious purpose? Or is something else going on? The lines may not be as clearly defined as they first appear.

McKenzie, unrecognisable from her leading role in Edgar Wright’s Last Night In Soho, is a precocious talent I can easily see following a similar trajectory to Florence Pugh (who starred in Oldroyd’s previous film Lady Macbeth) in the next few years, such is her potential.

Meanwhile, Hathaway has always managed to hit that fine balance of money gigs and parts she can get her teeth into – the latter applying here I suspect.

If only the last two minutes had been given just one more rewrite.

I haven’t read the book this is based on, but for a script so full of questions and scattered with seemingly innocuous lines of dialogue that scream out from the screen: this means something beyond the obvious! (Guard: He killed a cop. Eileen: He killed his dad. There’s a diffrence) one presumes that there will at some point be a satisfactory denouement to all this slow building exposition (and the build is very very slow).

There is a moment that completely turns the film on it head – so much so that one wonders if it can possibly be true until there it is staring you in the face.

Ninety-nine per cent of Eileen is a feat in keeping the audience off balance, but the conclusion leaves one wondering if someone took a black marker pen to the last page without any consideration for story arc or even logic.

Where does this leave the characters? And what was it all for?

Great unless you like your conclusions to make sense.

RATING: 6/10


Mick Ferris

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