Honestly, the movie, which features slightly off-kilter narration by James Franco, wouldn't feel out of place on PBS or maybe as one of those documentaries HBO shows on Monday nights. There's nothing particularly cutting edge about the approach to the material, or the way that things are presented. It's a just-the-facts-ma'am-type documentary that still manages to be engaging because of the wide array of people that filmmakers Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey talk to, and the clear passion that the subjects brought to their work (and how it electrified all of those around them).
Their approach to their work was to incorporate all of the things they loved, with Charles taking a mathematic approach to a problem while Ray, with her wild sense of color and composition, would use painterly tools and place a chief importance on whimsy and the way things felt together. They also encouraged those who worked at the Eamery – animators, designers, artists – to challenge their own preconceived notions and methods of design. It was a place of endless experimentation and creativity. One former Eamery member recounts that the physical space of the office, a sprawling warehouse minutes from the beach, would change almost everyday – a prototype room would spring up in the middle of the space, then be gone the next day, with large spools of patterned material blanketing everything one moment, before disappearing the next.
They also created exhibits, like one for IBM at the 1964 World's Fair in Queens (this is the same World's Fair where Walt Disney unveiled "it's a small world" and the Carousel of Progress), which featured multiple screens that showcased the interconnectedness of life, in an attempt to make the computer seem less cold and impersonal. It wasn't a runaway success, but it was a testament to the way that Charles Eames' mind worked, in a series of hyperlinked, text-filled pages that only he could truly decipher. The failure of The World of Franklin and Jefferson, a mammoth installation that toured the country to commemorate the US Bicentennial, was a testament to how knotty and impenetrable some of his ideas became.
Charles died ten years to the day that Ray passed away, and you wish that the documentary, which is handsomely produced, full of glorious archival footage, zippy montages, and compelling talking head pieces, would have zeroed in on Ray's time without Charles. You get the impression that he held her back, in some ways, and after his death took over the Eames company with great relish, looking forward to turning it into something genuinely different than what it was before. Many of the interviewees make note of the fact that Ray was always standing behind Charles, both in the office and in photographs. In those ten years, she was able to stand front and center, and it would have been nice to see what those years were like for her. As it stands, though, 'Eames,' as conventionally straight forward as it is, is also a delight, illuminating a pair of true American geniuses, in a whimsical way totally befitting their product. Next time you sit down in an Eames chair, think of them. [A-]