Review: ‘Eileen’ (2023), starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland and Owen Teague

December 9, 2023

by Carla Hay

Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie in “Eileen” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Eileen” (2023)

Directed by William Oldroyd

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1964 in an unnamed city in Massachusetts, the dramatic film “Eileen” (based on the 2015 novel of the same film) features a cast of predominantly white characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A shy administrative assistant at a juvenile detention center becomes enamored with a newly hired psychiatrist at the same job, and the two women do their own kind of pushback on what society expects from women. 

Culture Audience: “Eileen” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, the book on which the movie is based, and movies about repression and mental illness that take an unexpected turn.

Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway in “Eileen” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Much like the movie’s namesake, “Eileen” appears to be going one way and then goes in a very different direction. The cast members’ intriguing performances are the main reason to watch this psychological drama, which takes a very dark turn near the end. The movie is weakened by a vague ending that doesn’t give the closure and answers that were given in the book.

Directed by William Oldroyd, “Eileen” is based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2015 novel of the same name. Moshfegh and Luke Goebel co-wrote the adapted screenplay for “Eileen.” The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

“Eileen” takes place during a bitterly cold winter in 1964, in an unnamed Massachusetts city not far from Boston. (“Eileen” was actually filmed in New York and New Jersey.) Eileen Dunlop (played by Thomasin McKenzie) is a 24-year-old bachelorette, who lives a dreary existence with her alcoholic, widower father Jim Dunlop (played by Shea Whigham), who is a former police chief. In addition to his alcoholism, there are indications that Jim has an undiagnosed mental illness.

Jim is verbally and physically abusive to Eileen, who is miserable living with her father, but she can’t afford to move out of the house. Eileen doesn’t report the abuse because she knows that Jim still has friends in the local police force. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that Eileen has a co-dependent, love/hate relationship with her father. She hates his abuse, but she also wants to feel needed, because he depends on her to take care of him.

Eileen has an older sister named Joanne, who is married and hasn’t come by to visit in quite some time. Jim tells Eileen in no uncertain terms that Joanne is his favorite child. During one of Jim’s many drunken rants, he tells Eileen that he wishes that Eileen were as organized as Joanne is. There are hints that Jim probably sexually abused Joanne as a child, which would explain why Joanne is keeping her distance from him as an adult.

For the past three or four years, Eileen has been working as a secretary/administrative assistant at Moorehead, a boys’ juvenile detention center, which is essentially a prison. It’s mentioned at one point in the movie that Eileen is a college dropout. At her job, Eileen isn’t very well-liked by the other secretaries in the office, because she’s quiet and keeps mostly to herself. Mrs. Murray (played by Siobhan Fallon Hogan) and Mrs. Stevens (played by Tonye Patano) are the two of the nosy co-workers who speak in gossipy and condescending tones to Eileen.

The beginning of the movie shows that Eileen is very introverted, but she’s not as prim and proper as she appears to the outside world. Eileen is kind of a kinky voyeur: She puts ice down her underwear after watching a couple’s makeout session. Eileen’s love life is non-existent, but she has vivid sexual fantasies about having sex with a Moorehead guard named Randy (played by Owen Teague), who’s about the same age as Eileen.

However, someone else on the job arouses Eileen’s sexual interest even more than Randy. Her name is Rebecca St. John (played by Anne Hathaway), who is Moorehead’s newly hired prison psychologist. Eileen is entranced with Rebecca from the moment that she meets this new co-worker. Rebecca, who is originally from New York City, looks and acts more like a glamorous movie star than a psychologist.

At one point, Rebecca tells Eileen that although she’s had plenty of boyfriends, she’s never been married. Rebecca says her dating relationships are “just for fun” and never last. Rebecca comes across as a progressive (she believes that psychedelic drugs should be used as therapy) and independent (she say she loves living by herself), which is the opposite of the conservative and stifling lifestyle that Eileen feels she is being pressured to live.

Eileen is infatuated with Rebecca’s sophisticated ways and seems to be fascinated with everything that Rebecca does. Rebecca notices this admiration and makes an effort to befriend Eileen, who is very flattered by the attention and the compliments that she gets from Rebecca. It’s obvious that Eileen wants her relationship with Rebecca to be more than a friendship, but does Rebecca feels the same way?

One day, Eileen notices Rebecca having a counseling session with an inmate named Lee Polk (played by Sam Nivola) and his mother, who is identified in the movie only as Mrs. Polk (played by Marin Ireland). Lee is in prison for murdering his father by stabbing him to death in the father’s bed. The father was a police officer who worked in the same police department as Eileen’s father Jim.

Eileen can see the counseling session through glass windows, but she can’t hear what’s being said behind closed doors. However, Eileen knows that the session ended badly because Mrs. Polk storms out and shouts, “Filthy, nasty boy!” Meanwhile, Lee smirks in reaction to seeing his mother upset.

Shortly after the session ends, Rebecca asks Eileen if she thinks Mrs. Polk is an angry woman. Eileen doesn’t know enough about Mrs. Polk to give an opinion either way. However, Eileen tells Rebecca that she thinks Lee is intelligent and that he doesn’t seem like the type to be a cold-blooded murderer.

A turning point in Eileen’s relationship with Rebecca happens when Rebecca asks Eileen to go with her to a local bar. Rebecca says it’s because she’s new to the area and wants to meet more new people. But as far as Eileen is concerned (based on how excitedly she gets ready for this meet-up), Rebecca has asked her on a date. At the bar, Rebecca will only dance with Eileen and literally shoves a man away who tries to cut in on Rebecca and Eileen dancing together.

One of the strengths of “Eileen” is how all of the principal cast members make their characters very believable. Even when not much is happening in certain scenes, the performances of McKenzie and Hathaway make viewers wonder what Eileen and Rebecca might be really thinking, compared to what they’re saying out loud. That’s an example of the compelling acting in this movie.

Viewers who don’t know what’s in the “Eileen” book or don’t know what happens in the last third of the movie probably won’t see the plot twist coming. The “Eileen” book is told from the perspective of a middle-aged Eileen looking back on her life. The “Eileen” movie does not give that retrospective context and therefore brings up questions that remain unanswered by the end of the film. However, the movie has an impeccable buildup to its most suspenseful moments, even if the ending won’t be as satisfying as some viewers hope it will be.

Neon released “Eileen” in select U.S. cinemas on December 1, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on December 8, 2023.

Review: ‘ Shelter in Solitude,’ starring Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Dan Castellaneta, Robert Patrick, Peter Macon, Peter Hogan, Robb Banks and Fat Nick

October 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Siobhan Fallon Hogan in “Shelter in Solitude” (Photo courtesy of Foxglove Entertainment)

“Shelter in Solitude”

Directed by Vibeke Muasya

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2020, in the fictional U.S. city of Trudyville, the dramatic film “Shelter in Solitude” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A down-on-her-luck bar owner, who has to temporarily shut down her bar because of the COVID-pandemic, takes a job as a prison guard, and she develops an unlkely friendship with a death row prisoner whose execution date is in a matter of days.

Culture Audience: “Shelter in Solitude” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Siobhan Fallon Hogan and movies about ordinary people in unusual situations.

Peter Macon in “Shelter in Solitude” (Photo courtesy of Foxglove Entertainment)

“Shelter in Solitude” is a little uneven when it awkwardly tries to balance comedy with the drama of the main story. Good acting saves what could have been a very trite movie about an unlikely friendship between a death row prisoner and a prison guard.

Directed by Vibeke Muasya and written by Siobhan Fallon Hogan, “Shelter in Solitude” (which takes place in 2020) has a meandering quality to it that might or might not turn off viewers. The movie’s trailer shows that the emotional core of the story is the friendship that develops between the prisoner and the prison guard. But that doesn’t happen until the last half of the movie.

Muyasa and Hogan previously collaborated on the 2021 dramatic film “Rushed,” which was written by Hogan and in which Hogan starred as a mother seeking justice for her teenage son, who died in a fraternity hazing. Robert Patrick co-starred in “Rushed” as the husband of Fallon’s character. In “Shelter in Solitude,” Fallon and Patrick portray siblings Val Fagin and Dwayne Fagin in the fictional city of Trudyville, which is in an unnamed state in the U.S. South. (Hogan, who’s really from the New York/New Jersey area, has a contrived Southern twang that she plays to the hilt in this movie.)

In the beginning of the story, Val (a bachelorette in her 60s with no children) is trying not to feel like a failure. When she was in her 20s, she moved to Nashville to try to make it big as a country singer. It didn’t work out, and now she’s being making a modest living as the owner of a bar called Val’s Tavern, where she occasionally gets up on stage and sings. Val has owned Val’s Tavern for the past 29 years. She can get rowdy when she’s drunk.

As shown early in the movie, Val has a tendency to have meaningless hookups with men who are no good for her. One of them is Kevin (played by Michael Oberholtzer), a musician who’s young enough to be her son and who plays guitar whenever she needs a band to perform with on stage. Kevin’s father was a meth addict, and it’s implied that Kevin has substance abuse problems too. Real-life rapper Robb Banks and musician Fat Mike have cameos in the movie, with Banks as a drug dealer and Fat Mike as a rapper.

Val’s protective brother Dwayne gets in a fight with Kevin at the bar because Dwyane doesn’t think Kevin respects Val. Another person who looks out for Val (but doesn’t get invovled in her love life) is a local cop named Chris Sullivan, also known as Officer Chrissy (played by Peter Hogan), who is easygoing and friendly, but doesn’t have much to do in this movie. (Peter Hogan is Siobhan Fallon Hogan’s real-life son, so it looks like this was a nepotism role.)

Dwayne is the warden of the local prison, but his life is also a lonely mess. Dwayne, who is a divorced father, is still bitter that his ex-wife left him because Dwayne is impotent. Dwayne pays child support and complains that he doesn’t get to see his underage kids as much as he would like to because his ex-wife won’t let him. There are hints that Dwayne cheated on his ex-wife, which was probably the main reason for the divorce.

At the prison, a mild-mannered prison guard named Sam (played Dan Castellaneta) is quitting to retire, after 32 years on the job. Dwayne is preoccupied with finding a replacement for Sam. Another big concern for Dwayne is the upcoming execution of a death-row prisoner named Jackson (played by Peter Macon), who is asking the state governor for clemency to stop the execution. Jackson is on death row for brutally murdering a man, but Jackson claims that the killing was in self-defense.

Jackson’s upcoming execution is all over the local news, but something even bigger happens that takes over the news: the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdowns of “non-essential” businesses that require in-person contact. Val’s Tavern is ordered to be shut down. Val was already financially struggling (she had to borrow $200 from Dwayne because she was late on mortgage payment because she had to pay for a leaky roof), and now she’s losing her Val’s Tavern income for an unknown period of time.

When Val hears about Sam retiring from his prison job, Val’s solution to her problem is to get a job as a prison guard to replace Sam at the prison where Dwayne works, even though Val has no training or experience in this job. She’s able to convince Dwayne to hire her because she knows he has the power to do it without anyone questioning him. The prison is so behind-the-times, it doesn;t even have a computer system.

On her first day on the job, Val meets Jackson, who is standoffish and refuses to speak to her at first. Slowly but surely, Val is able to get Jackson to open up and trust her. Jackson, who is a divorced father, tells her about his adult daughter Eveyln, whom he has been writing letters to while he’s been in prison. And when Val hears Jackson’s story about the crime that landed him on death row, she becomes emotionally invested in preventing his execution.

“Shelter in Solitude” leaves any previous comedic tone behind when it gets to this part of the story. Val starts to see that her problems are nowhere near as big as Jackson’s problems, while Jackson begins to understand that not everyone who works in law enforcement is the enemy. There is no romantic attraction between Val and Jackson. They unexpectedly find comfort in each other as friends.

Val and Jackson are both tough and tender in different ways. Siobhan Fallon Hogan and Macon give solidly capable performances. The best scenes in the movie are when their characters Val and Jackson are just talking. “Shelter in Solitude” adeptly shows that quiet conversations can led to powerful moments in connecting with other people.

Foxglove Entertainment released “Shelter in Solitude” in select U.S. cinemas on October 6, 2023.

Review: ‘Rushed,’ starring Siobhan Fallon Hogan and Robert Patrick

September 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Siobhan Fallon Hogan (far left) and Robert Patrick (center) in “Rushed” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Rushed”

Directed by Vibeke Muasya

Culture Representation: Taking place in upstate New York and other parts of the United States, the dramatic film “Rushed” features a predominantly white group of people (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After her teenage son dies during a college fraternity hazing party where he was forced to drink too much drug-laced alcohol, a grieving mother goes on a cross-country trip to interview other mothers who lost their sons in similar incidents, so that she can convince politicians to change the laws for fraternity hazing.

Culture Audience: “Rushed” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about avenging parents and criminal justice, and are open to stories that don’t follow the usual clichés.

A scene from “Rushed” featuring Justin Linville (second from left), Jay Jay Warren (third from left) and Jake Weary (center, on balcony). (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Although it will make many viewers uncomfortable, “Rushed” succeeds in its aim to not be a stereotypical movie about a mother trying to seek justice for her child who died an unnecessary and tragic death. “Rushed” starts out one way and it ends in an entirely different way. Viewers will either like or dislike the plot twist, but one thing that viewers can agree on is that is “Rushed” offers a very unsettling but realistic portrait of how grief can affect people in different ways.

Directed with simmering tension by Vibeke Muasya, “Rushed” features a memorable performance by Siobhan Fallon Hogan, who wrote the “Rushed” screenplay. The movie isn’t perfect, but the emotions and characters’ personalities seem very true-to-life. It’s very much meant to be a film where a lot of viewers can relate to at least one of the characters.

Hogan portrays Barbara O’Brien, a seemingly average middle-aged, middle-class homemaker who lives in upstate New York. Barbara and her husband Jim O’Brien (played by Robert Patrick) have four teenage children. Oldest child Jimmy (played by Jay Jay Warren) is 18 or 19 and in his first year at the fictional New York State University, where he lives on campus during the school year. The other three children live at home with the parents: daughter Ciara (played by Ellie Frankel), who’s about 16; daughter Kelly (played by Lily Rosenthal), who’s about 15; and son Sean (played by Liam Hogan), who’s about 13.

The O’Briens are a tight-knit Irish American Catholic family. Barbara is so religious that she prays every day with a rosary, and she keeps a statue of St. Augustine in the kitchen, where she prays next to the statue with a lighted candle on a regular basis. Even though chain-smoking Barbara (who is a homemaker) is a devout Catholic, she has some contradictions because she also frequently curses, which is against her religious beliefs. Her kids like to tease her about this dichotomous side to her personality.

Barbara is kind of a scatterbrain who has a tendency to talk out loud to herself. She’s always on the go and is at the center of all the organizing in this busy household. For the kids who live at home, Barbara is the one who usually makes sure that they are awake in time in the morning so they won’t be late for school. She makes everyone’s meals, and she drives the children to school and picks them up when school is done for the day. The kids who live at home go to a Catholic school where they have to wear school uniforms.

As for Jimmy, living away from home for the first time has given him more freedom but has also put him at risk for more danger. He’s decided to pledge the same fraternity that his father pledged when his father was a university student. The opening scene of “Rushed” foreshadows how brutal things will get during the hazing process that is ruled over by the current fraternity members and their president. The pledges, including Jimmy, are led into in a secluded wooded area at night, and they are forced to drink liquor while blindfolded. Then, the fraternity members abandon the pledges in the woods, thereby forcing the pledges to find their own way back home.

Hazing for fraternities and sororities usually involves pledges having to endure humiliating and painful acts. It’s an initiation process that’s supposed to make the pledges “prove” how badly they want to be in the fraternity or sorority. However, hazing (which often involves alcohol and/or other drugs) can sometimes go too far. College hazing incidents that have resulted in people dying almost always happen with fraternities.

After the abandonment in the woods, Jimmy and the other pledges endure more hazing, such as having to crawl on broken glass and the fraternity members urinating on them, while everything is being filmed on frat members’ phones. Presiding over these abusive acts is fraternity president Steven Croission (played by Jake Weary), who is a sadistic bully who loves to dole out as much suffering as he can. Steven is also on a power trip because he thinks he can get away with whatever he wants to do.

Steven can see that Jimmy isn’t afraid to stand up to Steven, so Steven has targeted Jimmy to get the worst of the hazing. After being urinated on, Jimmy is furious and is close to quitting the pledging process. However, Jimmy’s nerdy and empathetic roommate Vergil (played by Justin Linville), who is also Jimmy’s best friend at school, is pledging the same fraternity and doesn’t want to feel all alone in the pledging process. Vergil convinces Jimmy not to quit because the pledging process will be over soon.

The day after the Jimmy almost quit pledging the fraternity, Barbara calls to check in on Jimmy while she’s driving Ciara and Kelly to school. Jimmy pretends to everyone that everything is going well for him at school. He gives absolutely no indication that the fraternity hazing is abusive, and he doesn’t mention the bloody injuries he sustained from crawling on broken glass.

The pledging process soon ends. Jimmy and Vergil and some other pledges find out that they’ve been accepted into the fraternity. To welcome their new members, the fraternity has a big party at the frat house. Steven is seen buying cocaine and Xanax from a drug dealer. This loathsome fraternity president hasn’t forgotten Jimmy’s “insubordination,” so he plans to get revenge on Jimmy.

In order to prevent certain people from filming what he plans to happen, Steven makes sure that certain people’s phones are confiscated when they first enter the party. Vergil and Jimmy are among those whose phones are taken away. They’re told that they will get their phones back when they leave the party.

At the party, Jimmy is drinking alcohol moderately and not doing any drugs. However, it isn’t long before Steven puts his plan into action. He spikes a beer with a combination of cocaine and Xanax. And then he cheerfully gives the beer to Jimmy, who drinks it and almost immediately vomits.

Things quickly spiral out of control from there. As a “prank,” Steven has ordered his fraternity underlings to duct tape Jimmy to a chair, where Jimmy is force-fed alcohol until he loses consciousness. Vergil desperately pleads to get his phone back so he can call for help, but Steven refuses. Everyone else at the party thinks what’s being done to Jimmy is hilarious because Steven makes it look like it’s “all in good fun.”

You know what happens next: Jimmy really isn’t okay. Only after Steven sees that Jimmy might be in a coma does he allow Vergil to have his phone back. Vergil calls 911, an ambulance arrives, and Jimmy never regains consciousness. Because the medical diagnosis is that he’s brain dead and will never be conscious again, his family makes the difficult decision to take him off of life support.

All of this is not spoiler information because it’s in the trailer for “Rushed,” and Jimmy death serves as the catalyst for what happens in the rest of the movie. The O’Brien family is devastated, with Barbara taking it the hardest. While her husband eventually goes back to work and the other kids go back to school, she spends her days and nights chain-smoking and hunched on the couch in a deep depression where she barely talks to anyone.

And the O’Briens get more bad news when they find out that separate investigations conducted by the police and by the university concluded that Jimmy death was an accident of his own doing. Barbara is outraged because she’s sure that Jimmy wouldn’t have consumed all of that alcohol willingly. Her husband Jim accepts the findings though and tells Barbara that they need to move on.

But one day, something happens that snaps Barbara out of her bleak existence. She sees a news article on the Internet about a college student who also died during a fraternity hazing incident. It leads her to start doing more research on the Internet. And she’s shocked to see how many other young men died in ways that were similar to how Jimmy died, with no one being held accountable except for the dead guys who were blamed for their own deaths.

This information fuels an outrage that motivates Barbara to do something to change the existing laws about fraternity hazing. It just so happens that Jim has a fraternity brother who is now a U.S. senator. His name is Senator Bob Daley (played by Jordan Lage), who takes Jim’s call when Jim tracks down the senator’s phone number.

Barbara talks to Senator Daley too. And he seems very sympathetic about the O’Briens’ tragic loss. The senator says he would like to help in any way that he can. Barbara says that she’ll take him up on his offer. And she’s got an idea that she thinks will help convince politicians to make a law against hazing.

Barbara decides go on a cross-country trip by car, to videorecord interviews that she conducts with parents (mostly mothers) who also lost their sons to university hazing incidents. It’s not an easy task, since many are reluctant to talk on camera. However, she usually gets the mothers to open up because she knows exactly how they feel.

Most of the parents are working-class and middle-class. However, two parents whom Barbara visits are wealthy. There’s a somewhat amusing part of the movie where Barbara just can’t get over how big this couple’s mansion is and she gushes about it on the phone to Jim. It’s a very realistic and funny scene.

The wealthy couple are not identified by their first names in the movie. They are called Mr. Donohue (played by Sean Cullen) and Mrs. Donohue (played by Peri Gilpin), who have very different views on their son’s death. Mr. Donohue is a member of the fraternity that his son was pledging, so he’s inclined to think it was a tragic accident. Mrs. Donohue is fairly certain that her son died of manslaughter or negligence. She agrees to make a statement on video, while her husband refuses.

The last third of the movie takes a very dark turn that might surprise a lot of viewers. However, there were signs that some of the extreme things that happen didn’t come from out of the blue. The impact of this movie rests on the ability to convince viewers that what happens in this plot twist could very well happen in real life. Muasya steers this movie in a way that will catch people off guard, just like Barbara’s life takes some twists and turns that she never imagined before Jimmy died.

Hogan’s portrayal of Barbara is heart-wrenching, but the movie doesn’t make her out to be a confident crusader who knows what she’s doing. If she’s flying blind into her mission, it’s because she’s blind from grief that won’t go away, no matter how many therapeutic interviews she does with parents who’ve lost a child in similar ways. Viewers might wonder why Barbara is willing to suddenly up and leave her family to take this road trip, but it’s a compulsion, just like her devotion to religious rituals, that’s very consistent with her personality.

If you’re looking for a formulaic TV-movie-of-the week conclusion to this story, you’ll have to look elswhere. “Rushed” is not going to give easy and trite answers to a very complex problem. The movie serves as a striking example of how even though people involved in hazing deaths often deny responsibility, the damage is felt in one way or another by those who were left behind.

Vertical Entertainment released “Rushed” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 27, 2021.

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