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Eileen (2023) — Movie Review

Movies & TV

By Hugo Mercer

- Dec 8, 2023

"Eileen"- that's what her world is known by in this twisted Massachusetts town filled with apparent ugliness. Her home is nothing but a neighborhood wreck, a permanent address for her ailing, alcoholic father. The "youth center"—read youth prison—where she labors, runs high on unsightliness. From her world, everything looks gloomy and bleak, the ugliness seeping in so deep that Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie), caught in the whirlpool of this gloom, almost seems oblivious to it.

And then emerges the glamorous Dr. Rebecca St. John (Anne Hathaway) from her sleek vehicle, her sharp heels clicking echoingly against the icy path leading to the youth center. Eileen, entranced and gawking, sees a chimeric aura around her. Blonde hair stylishly bouncing with each step, a tailored suit, an attractive hat- perhaps, Eileen's definition of chic, and that becomes Rebecca. In a world devoid of beauty, Rebecca brings sparkle.

As we dig deeper into William Oldroyd's "Eileen," through the labyrinth of a narrative depicting a desolate, twisty world, we understand that Eileen may not be vouching for her observation. Perhaps, the compelling insignificance she has felt throughout her life has distorted her perception. A detailed study of Rebecca paints a different picture. Her hair looks more like a bird's nest, her posture as she smokes a cigarette suggests a blatant readiness for a cinematic closeup. There's a slight trickery about her, a subtle edge, unnoticeable to anyone but Eileen. It feels as if Marilyn Monroe herself has walked into Eileen's life, unexpectedly becoming her first friend.

The movie shares its name with Ottessa Moshfegh's striking maiden novel. It delves into the rhythm of Eileen's life, to emphasize how much it rattles when disrupted. The film avoids using voiceovers that would attempt to fill the gaps in Eileen's character. Instead, it elaborates on the enigmatic element, fueling audience curiosity.

Eileen spends her days as an obscure figure, ignored and pushed around. She is told by her father (an impressive portrayal by Shea Whigham), "Get a life, Eileen. Get a clue." Little does he anticipate the chaotic mess or the touch of fearsome ecstasy her pursuit of a 'life/clue' would bring her or the impression it will leave.

Eileen (2023) — Movie Review

Unlike narratives about women like "Carrie", this is not a tale of female empowerment but a representation of loneliness and detachment, harking back to the vibes of 1970s films such as "Three Women," "Two-Lane Blacktop," "Five Easy Pieces," or the final scene of the otherwise comic "Shampoo." The bleak winter mood closely matches that of "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore". But the "Eileen" film adaptation fails to capture the raw intensity and filth, both bodily and metaphorically, described in the book.

Thomasin McKenzie, a young actress from New Zealand, and Anne Hathaway, a Hollywood veteran, have brought their characters to life with admirable realism. Their interaction is charged with electricity. Not to forget, Marin Ireland who, in her only appearance, hits hard and leaves a lasting impression.

"Eileen" is a story about an alarming ambiguity of boundaries within a relationship. Akin to how Eileen is attuned to her surroundings, Rebecca, too, seems to blend in. Eileen hangs to her life by a delicate thread. One slight snap, and she'd float into the oblivion. But as Eileen observes, she would probably not reach “the stars”. Her own thorny world draws her in.

Our expert Sheila O'Malley has a BFA in Theatre from the University of Rhode Island and a Master's in Acting from the Actors Studio MFA Program. Check out her Movie Love Questionnaire here.


8 / 10

Follow Eileen's life in a grim Massachusetts town and the twisty relationship brewing with the dazzling Dr. Rebecca in this haunting adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh's first novel.