Directed by: William Oldroyd
Premise: Set in 1960s Massachusetts, Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie) works in a juvenile correctional facility where she meets the new staff psychologist (Anne Hathaway). Inspired by the new hire’s independence and verve, Eileen begins asserting herself.
What Works: Eileen is set during the Massachusetts winter and the film has a vivid sense of place. The picture looks authentically of its 1960s time period and not in a nostalgic or idealized way. The correctional facility and the taverns and homes share a smokey, worn down, and lived in feel and the set design and cinematography are aligned, giving the entire film a consistent visual texture. The organic quality of the visual style suits Eileen’s themes. The title character is a young woman who is socially and sexually repressed; she’s stuck in a dead-end job and serves as caretaker for her alcoholic and abusive father (Shea Whigham). Something has to give and Eileen sees new possibilities when she encounters Rebecca, the correctional facility’s new psychologist. Eileen’s relationship to Rebecca is ambiguous. It might be sexual attraction or Eileen might be enamored with the freedom and potential that Rebecca represents. And Rebecca might be attracted to Eileen or might be toying with her or just amused by this neophyte. The actors play out that ambiguity quite well and Eileen has terrific performances. Thomasin McKenzie plays Eileen and she’s game for the more daring parts of the movie but there’s also a lot of subtlety to her performance. McKenzie doesn’t have a presence that suggests violence which makes some of the later developments shocking. Anne Hathaway is called upon to be a femme fatale and she does that better here than in other roles. Her outward confidence gives way to reveal a human vulnerability. Also impressive is Marin Ireland as the mother of an incarcerated minor. She’s not in the film very much but Ireland delivers a long speech that is heartbreaking. Eileen is distinguished by the way in which it merges heavy dramatic scenes like Ireland’s monologue with sexual tension and moments of humor while keeping the tone consistent.
What Doesn’t: The ending of Eileen comes across incomplete. The movie doesn’t reach a climax. It just stops. We’re left to wonder what happened to the characters but in a way that is frustrating instead of thought provoking. Anne Hathaway is underutilized. Hathaway’s scenes with Thomasin McKenzie crackle with sexual tension and the filmmakers rightly don’t overexpose and demystify the psychologist but they overcorrect and Hathaway’s absence weighs heavily on the ending.
Bottom Line: Eileen is a smart thriller with elements of black comedy and eroticism. The film is handicapped by an abrupt ending but Eileen is extremely well made and has some very strong performances.
Episode: #977 (December 17, 2023)