Review: Eileen is a movie about blurred and dangerous relationships, many of them fraught, and a few of them deadly. I didn’t find it nearly as rewarding as I see many others have on the internet, but there are a few stylistic and dramatic choices that make it worthwhile. Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway co-star.
I’m starting to catch up on my misses from 2023. Eileen was one of those missed movies – one that was originally released at Sundance last year and was given a short theatrical run before its VOD premiere. It was highly touted out of the festivals for being a brooding nightmare of impulsions and desire, a movie that seemed right in my wheelhouse. I’m also an admirer of both Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway, and I was excited to see the two share the screen together in snowy Massachusetts circa the 1960s.
But Eileen didn’t really work for me. There are aspects of it that I like, but the plot churns through different events without much rhyme or reason. You can feel the pages of a book turning much more than the scenes of a movie coming to life. It’s based on a 2015 novel of the same name by Ottessa Moshfegh, and you can feel the adaptation aspects of it – only I imagine the book is much steamier, enticing, and filled with riveting material.
The movie version of Eileen just isn’t that. It’s pretty tame in terms of onscreen content. Much of it is implied and left to the two lead actresses being able to inflict those feelings on you without actually displaying it on screen. Anne Hathaway is quite good as a supporting actress here in the role of Rebecca, a beguiling new coworker that drags our titular lead Eileen down a rabbit-hole of crime.
Eileen is played by Thomasin McKenzie, who I’ve usually really liked in similar soft leading roles, like Last Night in Soho, Leave No Trace, and even Jojo Rabbit (that movie has many problems – Thomasin McKenzie is not one of them). I don’t think she works as well here. There’s a lot of burden on her shoulders to be an innocent young adult with more intimate, closeted desires.
She plays the innocent, under spoken role well, but that deeper desire isn’t translated much throughout the movie. Perhaps she’s just miscast, but the movie doesn’t give her much runway to feel it out. Eileen is directed by William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth in 2016), in an attempt to cross crime and camp in a unique way. It’s not too unlike Fargo (both the film and tv series), and I occasionally thought that Eileen may have been better served as a full season of Fargo television. It needs more time to sizzle and sear.
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It’s drastically underbaked and spends way too much time focusing on style, craft, and design. For what it’s worth, the style is quite beautiful to look at. The mundane, smalltown Massachusetts setting is wonderfully portrayed. It’s layered with thick accents and dense snow that you can feel jumping through the screen. I wish I had watched this over the Christmas holiday as I suspect the time of year may have played better for me.
Shea Whigham plays the third lead as Eileen’s father Jim Dunlop, a drunk grieving over the passing of his wife. He adds another layer of depression and insolation that can be felt throughout each frame of the movie.
Ultimately, Eileen is a movie about blurred and dangerous relationships, many of them fraught, and a few of them deadly. I didn’t find it nearly as rewarding as I see many others have on the internet, but there are a few stylistic and dramatic choices that make it worthwhile.
Watch Eileen on VOD here
Eileen Movie Cast and Credits
Thomasin McKenzie as Eileen Dunlop
Anne Hathaway as Rebecca
Shea Whigham as Jim Dunlop
Sam Nivola as Lee Polk
Marin Ireland as Mrs. Polk
Siobhan Fallon Hogan as Mrs. Murray
Director: William Oldroyd
Cinematography: Ari Wegner
Editor: Nick Emerson
Composer: Richard Reed Parry