Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen is haunting, jarring, and meditative all at once, setting the tone for the rest of her literary canon. As Moshfegh’s fans know and love, her storytelling doesn’t play by the rules, and her female characters are some of the most unique (anti)heroines one can meet. Eileen marks a significant milestone for the popular novelist as her first story to be adapted for the big screen. Sporting two incredible headliners, the 2023 film is set to be just as engrossing and divisive as her group of novels. So, in anticipation of its release, let’s take a look at this adaptation’s recent premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, cast commentary, early reviews, and more!
The Source Material
For those unfamiliar, Eileen takes us back to 1960s Massachusetts, where we meet a rather meek and isolated female protagonist with a powerful inner world. In an unorthodox coming-of-age arc, we learn about the life of 20-something Eileen through the reflections of her future self. With a no-holds-barred first-person narrative, the reader is in for a journey of twists and turns centering around one surprising female friendship.
Evidently, the novel stands strong as the root of this new project. To the relief of any worried fans, author Ottessa Moshfegh was foundationally involved in the creation of the film. In fact, she and her husband, Luke Goebel, wrote the screenplay. Additionally, both of the lead actors have credited the centrality of the book in grounding their understanding of each character and the cohesive conception of the film. Lead actress Thomasin McKenzie comments in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter:
It was a real privilege to have the book as an incredible resource to be able to pull from. I felt like I got so many of the answers from the book. I didn’t feel like I needed to be drilling Ottessa for clues into Eileen’s character. I felt quietly supported. There was freedom to take the role and bring it to life with our own unique spin on it.Thomasin McKenzie for The Hollywood Reporter
Across the board, the depth and appeal of the source material have heralded a very unified and inspired team. No doubt, bringing Eileen to screen this year will be a very strong indication of the adaptability of Moshfegh’s novels as a whole with the author herself at the helm of creative direction.
Surely Anne Hathaway (playing the elusive yet enigmatic Rebecca) needs no introduction, but let’s break down the rest of the cast:
The movie’s leading protagonist (and namesake), Eileen, will be played by Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit, Last Night in Soho). Her alcoholic father will be played by Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire).
The rest of the supporting cast is rounded out by Sam Nivola as Lee Polk, Jefferson White as Buck Warren, Owen Teague as Randy, and Siobhan Fallon Hogan as Mrs.Murray.
As written by Moshfegh, this dark, wintry tale, told entirely through the reflections of a now-aged Eileen, puts its focus on the intensity of the two female leads and their nuanced relationship. Like most, I’m very intrigued to see how Hathaway and McKenzie pair on screen and how the film visually tackles the story’s themes of desire and identity.
‘Eileen’ Premieres to Intriguing Reviews
Eileen premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in late January and generated much buzz in the film world. In attendance were Ottessa and Luke, director William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth), as well as actors Hathaway, McKenzie, and Whigham.
Described as an adaption of “brilliant gloom,” the Sundance Film Festival swiftly revealed the passion of the cast and Ottessa’s underlying influence as a literary powerhouse. Given the split opinions that follow many of Moshfegh’s novels, Eileen similarly engendered divided critics. However, the lure of the new film is undeniable, as it currently holds a 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.
After Sundance, Deadline hailed the film script as “a balanced mix of the hysterical and the macabre, all while maintaining the female gaze.” Expressing equal intrigue but less enthusiasm, The Guardian awarded the thriller 2 out of 5 stars, despite giving high praise to Hathaway’s performance.
Perhaps the most glowing review comes from Variety, which compares the film to Todd Haynes’ Carol but with a much icier edge. Between each post-premiere review, a common thread is apparent: Eileen on screen is just as ambitious, bold, and lurid as its source material. For that reason, it will excel and still not be everyone’s cup of tea.
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