So, I’ve been excited about this film (or rather, film series) since I first heard about it. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain star as a couple that have, as the story begins, just broken up for reasons that will eventually become clear. Benson originally created two films, Her & Him, one from Chastain’s perspective and one from McAvoy’s. There was talk of them being released as a three hour double bill, but Benson also created this version, a two hour, edited together version of the other two films. Just from a purely experimental standpoint, I was really interested in seeing how this would all work. It’s worth noting that this is Ned Benson’s directorial debut; it’s all the more ambitious considering that.
But the film really works, first and foremost, as an evocative, exquisitely acted, beautifully written drama and is interesting as an experiment only secondarily, which is the way it should be. McAvoy and Chastain are really wonderful together and separately; no spoilers, but I’ll just say there’s a nighttime restaurant scene, a scene in a car in the rain and, most wonderfully of all, a late scene of the two meeting at their old apartment and these are just really amazing scenes. I love both of these performers and they’re both at the top of their games here. Chastain, in particular, gives the best performance of her career so far, in my opinion; and this is a woman that I think should already have an Oscar, so that should give a measure of just how high the bar really is that she clears with this performance. The supporting cast is filled with veterans doing solid work; William Hurt does his best work in . . . a decade or more probably, as Chastain’s father; Ciarin Hinds is imposing and funny as McAvoy’s father; Bill Hader nets some laughs as a chef in McAvoy’s restaurant; and Viola Davis is a gem as a weary college professor. The film maybe isn’t perfect; the script is definitely reaching for transcendent beauty and when it fails to reach it in some scenes, the dialogue is just forced and pretentious. But the film really does succeed in that transcendence more often than it fails and, taken as a whole, it’s a really beautiful, heartfelt movie about tragedy and love. The film doesn’t take the lazy way out very often and I really did love the experience of it. It’s just a good old-fashioned drama about damaged people in hard circumstances and it’s a triumph. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – Chastain and McAvoy are both brilliant in this beautifully written, emotionally gripping tale of a couple facing tragedy; writer-director Ned Benson is a talent to watch. 4 stars.