Eileen Review

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Eileen has a smooth surface but underneath there lies a prickly layer. In their period-set, lovesick story, screenwriters Luke Goebel and Ottessa Moshfegh (both of them working from Moshfegh’s 2015 novel) take on gender oppression in the 1960s through the eyes of two women, which appears empowering at first. Director William Oldroyd then deftly transitions us into a seductive psychological thriller that simmers and bubbles like an unattended pot—an unholy mash-up of secret crushes and shattered homes that use dark comedy to disarm us when we least expect it before sucker-punching us with its climax. As a filmmaker who Trojan-Horses shadier business into a sensual relationship tale about budding sexuality, Oldroyd shows formidable command, subverting expectations with a mighty swerve.

Thomasin McKenzie is a mousy and repressed New Englander Eileen Dunlop, who works as a secretary at Boy Correction Center. Clearly, Eileen’s buttoned-up work life and her home—where she takes care of her alcoholic ex-cop dad (Shea Whigham)—cover more risqué desires; she has sexual fantasies while still on duty. Anne Hathaway plays Harvard psychologist Rebecca who is incredibly smart and poised to crack this misogynistic boys club in Eileen’s workplace. Rebecca catches the eye of Eileen immediately (and vice versa somewhat), intertwining the themes revolving around Eileen’s forbidden attraction for Rebecca versus the latter’s extraordinary self-reliance.

The performances are all mesmerizing, particularly McKenzie’s and Hathaway’s. Their mentor-student chemistry feels sensuous without fear to explore healthy sexual appetites as well as attraction based on power and status.“Rebecca does things in such a way that would leave either you or her puzzled,” these actions would cause Eileen to think. This is whether Hathaway socks slimy male lurkers at a bar or strides about like a ’60s Carrie Bradshaw. McKenzie is great at projecting an infatuated starry-eyed look, which is exactly what the movie needs to divert the audience’s attention from Oldroyd’s ability to subtly incite flashes of danger.

Whigham’s portrayal of toxic male ‘60s masculinity provides Eileen with her ultimate “villain”—the drunkard father who insults his daughter while she serves him hand and foot. He is a paper evil, the bloodline that holds her back; clearly, Whigham pushes it too far as a gun-waving embarrassment who would rather die than confront his emotions. Whigham’s character became very negative in comparison with Rebecca- she seemed like such a pretty little saint. Rebecca fascinates us with her dominant personality probably even more than poor little Eileen by Whigham. One can easily assume that she’s not ordinary given Hathaway’s spectacular appearance.

Eileen (the movie) has multiple personalities that one shouldn’t realize till the right time when Oldroyd lets you know them. Filmmakers smuggle thriller elements into the film through its guise of being an outspoken romantic dramedy because we all want to hold on to some glimmer of hope. You’re totally taken in by 1960s Massachusetts period sharpness, or even snickering about piggish bosses cracking nasty jokes about Rebecca as if they had any chance whatsoever, and then bang: there it is—a loaded pistol pointed menacingly at you. We always see the game between Rebecca and Eileen as well as society’s disapproving frowns but for how long does Oldroyd take to let out these nastiest tendencies?

There is just one small thing wrong with our friend Eileen. Both Moshfegh and Goebel employ an underlying suspense throughout a girl’s naïve journey to self-identification, though the final twist in act three does not have that much impact. A bitter, intense, and seismically gripping tale here loses its enigmatic slash from previous narrative tools. Their ambiguous link between Rebecca and Eileen appears pretty scandalous – something that the film’s climax misses somehow. Take for example one of those scenarios where “the chase”, that is Eileen chasing Rebecca, is surprisingly more interesting than the payoff. There is much about obsession, manipulation, and affirmation through free thinking that Moshfegh and Goebel want to talk about, but I suspect the novel does it better.


Eileen exhibits compelling performances and sneaky storytelling simmering with romantic passion. Thomasin McKenzie as Susie Homemaker bound friends is nothing short of amazing alongside Anne Hathaway who plays a similar role in their relationship during conservative times when women were considered objects of display rather than equal partners besides men at home where they ought to be seen but never heard or even shown affection publicly. Oldroyd does well by showing us how far these two can go without crossing any lines while building up tension around whether these girls will ever hook up again, however, this tends to be more effective than what happens after all this time has passed in relation to Eileen herself because some answers are just too good to be true. Eileen’s an intricate piece on wheels that could have been superbly constructed but didn’t end quite right.

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