Eileen  (15) | close-Up Film Review

Dir. William Oldroyd, US/UK/South Korea, 2023, 98 mins

Cast:  Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway

Review by Carol Allen

The story is set in Boston in 1964.  Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie) is a mousy young woman, who works as a secretary in a juvenile detention centre, where she’s pretty much ignored by her colleagues.  

Her home life isn’t any better.  She lives with her alcoholic, widowed father Jim (Shea Whigham), who bullies her and plays with guns when he’s been drinking.   Perhaps to cheer herself up, Eileen indulges in the odd sexual fantasy about one of the prison’s warders, spies on courting couples from her car and also on one of the young prisoners in the centre, when he’s sleeping. 

Her dreary life takes a turn for the better however when a new consultant psychologist arrives at the centre.   Rebecca (Anne Hathaway) is everything Eileen is not.  Glamourous, educated, confident and beautifully dressed.  Yet for some reason she takes a shine to Eileen, taking her out to cocktail bars, dancing with her, even kissing her.  So is this a gay coming out story or what?  Eileen is captivated.

Hathaway’s performance is the best thing about the film.  With her beautifully coiffed hair and classy way of dressing she has the aura of a film star of the time.   She’s very entertaining.  And the film itself has a good sense of the period.  Its problem though is the title character.  Eileen’s life is not only incredibly dreary but so is she. She is just not very interesting. 

And the whole thing goes really off kilter when Rebecca’s interest in the case of that young prisoner, on whom her young acolyte was spying earlier, leads to a dark, violent and totally unbelievable climax.

The film is based on a bestselling novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, who also co-wrote the screenplay, so no excuses there.  And the film is true to the book’s plot, including that ridiculous resolution.  Maybe Moshfegh  made it all more interesting and believable on the page, but if so, that hasn’t translated to the screen.