‘Eileen’ review: Anne Hathaway and Thomasin Mackenzie’s dark triumph

Watching a psychopath William Oldroyddeliciously muddled”Eileen”, based on the book by Ottessa Mishfegh, might simply see it as a wonderful tale of personal liberation. After all, Elaine (Thomasin McKenzie) goes from being a forced, downtrodden continuator — we watch her surreptitiously rub herself under her tweed skirt on two separate occasions in the first few minutes — to an independent young woman with decisive action and agency, facing her future in a fur coat topped with a smile of lipstick. However, non-psychics are destined to have a more complex set of reactions to Oldroyd’s rude type: a mixture of alarm, amusement, disgust, surprise and horror, and perhaps inappropriate laughter. It may prove to be an unpopular cocktail in some quarters, but the outsiders among us will find Elaine’s sheer sass, polished as it is in elegant and witty filmmaking, oddly hilarious and addictive.

Speaking of junkies, Elaine’s father (the usually excellent Shea Whigham) may be an alcoholic ex-cop who tends to perch in an upstairs window pointing a gun at neighborhood kids on their way home from school, but he has his moments. During one of these, with the relative clarity of the profession drinker only on his first whiskey of the day, he provides one possible key to navigating the film’s narrative stories. Just like in the movies, he says, there are two kinds of people in the world: “people who make the moves, who you watch” and “people who just fill in the space.”

One of the latter, he maintains, is his daughter, who has a typical fleeting cruelty even in their pleasant encounters. But what about when a lifelong space-crazed man, whom no one has ever paid much attention to, and whose eccentricity has fed into complete perversions without much notice, suddenly decides to become a move-maker? Maybe Elaine is just what happens when an ignorant background pushes herself into the spotlight in her private life.

Such a dramatic shift needs a catalyst. For Eileen, the sly, socially isolated, hygiene-hating secretary in a boy’s prison in 1960s Massachusetts, she arrives in the form of Marilyn-esque “Dr. Miss Rebecca St. John” (American actress Anne Hathaway), the improbably glamorous prison’s new psychologist. With her high heels, skinny cigarettes, and her hair the perfect scoop of blonde, Rebecca is an outsider in Elaine’s monotonous environment like a bird of paradise. And when she compromises to befriend Elaine, the effect is immediate: Elaine begins to wash more regularly and wear makeup, ditching her shapeless beige clothes for pretty dresses and pink outerwear harvested from her dead mother’s closet. “You’re different these days,” her dad notes tenderly. “Almost interesting.”

The similarities to Todd Haynes’ “Carol” are so obvious that they’re almost self-conscious — but if the movies have similarities like the December-centric tales of a lesbian attraction that unfolds between a young, withdrawn brunette and the world’s big blonde, Oldroyd replaces the velvety warmth of a Haynes movie. With a shabby, shabby, cool edge, it’s present in everything from production design to Ari Wegner’s gorgeous photography. Here, a New England winter isn’t something to notice through the picture window from beside the cozy fireplace over cocoa, but it’s something treacherously icy—especially if you need to drive through with your windows down, because your old, jam-packed car fills up with smoke if you don’t. Right from the start, long before the relationship takes its first spiraling steps into psychological and moral ambiguity, if this is “Carol,” it’s a damned, groovy version of her.

Beneath the polished, choppy cymbals of Richard Reed Barry’s cool jazz, which manages to be sultry and impatient as she moves from dissonant passages to sweet dissolution, Rebecca begins to take a special interest in one of the prison inmates. Leo Polk (Sam Nivola) makes time to stab his father to death one night while he’s lying in bed next to his mother (Marin Ireland, whose sexy monologue here gives her her second great moment at Sundance this year after “Birth/Birth”). Eileen is also infatuated with the boy, as his crime seems to fuel her own fantasies of her own sons. As if they are already happening.

Rebecca’s investigation into Polk takes a sinister and downright unprofessional turn, and she calls on Eileen to help her, unaware that the little thing she’s befriended is hardly the innocent and resilient tool she had assumed. Part of the thrill of “Eileen” is the darkly comic shift in the balance of power between the two women, as exceptionally played by Hathaway and Mackenzie, both shifts in high-functioning performances.

Elaine, initially drawn into the spotlight by Rebecca’s flirtatious attention, comes into her own, and soon begins to replace even the dazzling thing of her fixation — love isn’t quite the right word — as the film’s center of gravity. She can certainly outshine Rebecca in terms of her quirky psychology, and maybe it’s Rebecca’s handicap for all the condescending little comments, and her sheer belief in her own cuteness, that it will shrink as Ellen expands. In the end, it’s almost as if Rebecca realizes that she is, for the first time, the space filler in a movie named after someone else.

Filmmaking terminology is apt, as this is a film that is practically drunk on the possibilities of cinema, injecting reckless modern energy through a slew of classic Hollywood genres. Although it’s adapted from the novel written by the same author alongside co-writer Luke Goebel (they previously collaborated on Jennifer Lawrence’s more explicit drama “Causeway”), far from being true to its literary roots, “Eileen” is cinematically literate. . . It moves, sometimes zig-zag, sometimes abruptly, from Sirikian’s romantic melodrama to film noir to black comedy horror, edging somewhere in the realms of one of Hitchcock’s most thrilling films. (It’s no coincidence that the grotesquely sinister opening credits are a direct cameo of “Rear Window” or that Rebecca’s name and aloof blonde persona also refer to the master of suspense.)

The formal rigor that made Eldroid’s “Lady Macbeth” such a striking debut is on display here throughout, but this time directive subtlety is applied to a narrative of bold, even showy ambition, which Elaine, along with her unhinged heart, hides beneath a placid exterior. condemned. In that way, it’s just like the fantastically bizarre heroine. They are always calm.

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