Director: Sebastian Leilo
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams
Writers: Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Sebastian Leilo
Release date: Out now
Reviewer: Simon Brew
In much the same way that Sandra Bullock was criminally underrated in the 1990s, thanks to lending her talents to a bunch of really, really good romcoms, I don’t think the movie world has appreciated Rachel McAdams enough. Take a look at Morning Glory, where she’s opposite an experienced movie star – Harrison Ford, playing, er, heavily against type as a grumpy man – and is the absolute beating heart of the film. She’s the standout in Disobedience, too – no small feat given she’s co-starring with the also excellent Rachel Weisz.
Here, McAdams plays Esti, married to Alessandrio Nivola’s Dovid, yet attracted to women, in particular Rachel Weisz’s Ronit, who returns to the UK following the death of her father. His only daughter, shadows of her life as part of an Orthodox Jewish community abound: her sudden disappearance, the discomfort from those within the community, and the flame she and Esti shared.
This is the setup presented by director Sebastian Lelio, who directed and co-wrote last year’s excellent A Fantastic Woman. Here, he’s co-written the screenplay with Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the pair adapting Naomi Alderman’s novel. Lelio approaches the story in an intimate yet muted manner, the suppressed colour scheme of the scenes in and around the community, for instance, being quietly effective.
Furthermore, the inevitable conflict between faith and sexuality is handled quite tenderly. In particular, the character of Dovid has much to wrestle with, given the offer of a pivotal role in said community, against the rekindling of Esti and Ronit’s feelings for one another. Weisz and McAdams are terrific, inevitably both being touted for awards attention (although, interestingly, Weisz is being promoted as the lead role, McAdams in the supporting, and I’m not sure I buy that).
The film does stop at one point for a protracted scene of fruitiness, that goes on for a good while, and involves a bizarre moment involving saliva that I just won’t (I should note, too, that a good friend of mine, with far more intelligence on the matter than me, told me that the sex scene really angered her a lot). But after they’ve engaged in mattress rearranging, the conflict of the film seems quite muted. I never lost interest, and there are parts of the film that could work terrifically as a silent movie, so unreliant on dialogue are certain moments (and not just those ones).
But it’s surprisingly straightforward. The clash of religion and romance don’t really spark, and the sides of the argument – and how things will end up – feel outlined very early on. It’s beautifully shot, and not shy on terrific performances. But Disobedience still feels a little less than its ingredients. It’s good at what it does, but there’s a sense that there was something more challenging in the material.