Eileen, a collection of short stories by PEN Award nominee Ottessa Moshfegh, is directed by William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth) and stars Anne Hathaway (Armageddon Time) as well as Thomasin McKenzie (Last Night in Soho).
Eileen Dunlop (McKenzie) is a period drama set in Boston in the 1950s, who lives with her alcoholic father (Shea Wigham), works in a local jail, and disappears into carnal daydreams.
Rebecca makes an impressive impression on Eileen, despite her shabby appearance.
As Eileen sees her as a viable escape route from this down-at-heart existence, locals watch her out in disbelief. Conventions are challenged by these women, as Eileen begins to cave in to Rebecca's influence slowly making its mark.
Only Whigham makes an impact as Eileen's father, who has driven himself to drink since his wife's death. Emotionally exhausted, unprepared, and incapable of seeing past the love he lost — there is a tragic poignancy to be appreciated in the character which is played. Through the combination of a singular monologue moment and his generous co-star, the gifted character actor transforms an apparent one-note role into a heartbreaking eulogy.
Hathaway cuts a rug through this film, instead of just playing the part. In stark contrast to the comfortable conditions which define her place of employment, she is every inch the 1950s film icon, minus trailing furs and gangster boyfriends. By comparison, McKenzie feels minor in the role of Eileen, rather than allowing Hathaway to grab the attention.
There is no getting away from the comparisons to Carol, which saw Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara tackle a similar dynamic. Even if director Oldroyd's tone makes things seem different, Hathaway continues to embody many of the performance choices made in Carol.
Eileen is less about clandestine meetings, furtive glances, and secret attempts at a time when two women were incapable of getting together. Instead, the film depicts its femme fatale as an unknown quantity, who has less to do with sexual liberation and more to do with social non-conformity.
Eileen takes an unusual twist in the final third, thereby compromising the more nuanced choices made early on. As Rebecca deals with young offender Lee Polk (Sam Nivola), his is a wordless performance that seems strangely irrelevant until later on, when Eileen enters cold blooded interrogation territory.
The subtle character development and nuanced dialogue exchanges are overshadowed by a guilt ridden confessional that will slap audiences into submission. As far as dramatic U-turns are concerned, this is a really doozy, which removes the meek and mild layers of McKenzie, replacing them with tough edges that will slice you open.
Eileen is forever changed, while Rebecca removes the facade for the first time, suggesting that a substantial portion of this film will be withdrawn due to time constraints. This is a feeling that never really fades as these two women parted company and audiences feel no connection until the credits.