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Directed by William Oldroyd
Produced by Anthony Bregman, Stefanie Azpiazu, William Oldroyd, Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel, Peter Cron, and Bavand Karim
Screenplay by Luke Goebel and Ottessa Moshfegh Based on the novel by Ottessa Moshfegh
With: Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland, Owen Teague, Jefferson White, Tonye Patano, and Siobhan Fallon Hogan
Cinematography: Ari Wegner
Editing: Nick Emerson
Music: Richard Reed Parry
Runtime: 97 min
Release Date: 08 December 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.66 : 1
Color: Color

William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth) directs this screen version of Ottessa Moshfegh's debut novel, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The screenplay is by Moshfegh and her husband Luke Goebel, who together co-wrote the previous year's excellent indie Causeway. Eileen centers on an unhappy 24-year-old secretary at a juvenile correctional facility in 1960s Massachusetts. Eileen is immediately smitten when a glamorous, Radcliff-educated counselor who speaks her mind freely joins the staff. Eileen fantasizes about escaping her bleak life of menial prison work and attending to her alcoholic former cop father and dares to begin imagining something less provincial.

As played by Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace, Jojo Rabbit, Last Night in Soho), the titular Eileen Dunlop is an intriguing character whose frustrations and internal longings are effectively conveyed via McKenzie's expressive face. Too bad Oldroyd doesn't think she's enough and needs to spell out her thoughts for us by visualizing things in her mind as if they were cheap jump-scares. As the beguiling counselor, Anne Hathaway deftly pulls off an arch performance worthy of Cate Blanchett by way of Katherine Hepburn.

Speaking of Blanchett, the dynamic that develops between the fashionable, educated, bleached-blond older woman and the young, mousy working girl, as well as the period costumes, East Coast Christmastime setting, and the first name title, can not help but recall Todd Haynes and Phyllis Nagy's Carol, the 2015 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's lesbian romance novel The Price of Salt. Once you start thinking about Carol, you quickly remember Edward Lachman's exquisite, evocative cinematography in the film, and you get more and more discussed with the muddy brown digital dreck of Ari Wegner's lensing. And when you start thinking about Patricia Highsmith, you naturally expect the narrative to become a compelling psychological thriller, even though what you get is more akin to Paula Hawkins.

While Eileen's plot twists may have worked magnificently in prose form, as a movie, they feel more motivated by narrative contrivances than by the characters we've been getting to know. There's a key scene in which Marin Ireland (The Family Fang, Hell or High Water, The Miseducation of Cameron Post) delivers a powerful confession based on information hinted at from the film's beginning. But this is a monologue in search of a character, and I didn't buy it for a second. The entire picture pretty much falls apart at that point and seems to deliberately turn on a dime from a compelling character study to a camp movie that wants viewers to like it because of its flaws rather than in spite of them. Too bad because, despite a few questionable Boston accents, the performances here are worthy of a better story and more confident storytelling. Shout out to the always-welcome presence of Siobhan Fallon Hogan, who absolutely nails the Massachewsette dialect and attitude in the role of Eileen's co-worker who directs the correctional facility's annual Christmas pageant!

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Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway give compelling performances in this adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh's debut novel, but director William Oldroyd can't seem to decide if he's making a serious psychological thriller or campy B-movie homage.