Editor’s Notes: The Girl on the Train is now open in wide theatrical release.
The Girl on the Train has earned a certain degree of pre-release hype thanks in large part to hysteric comparisons to that other twisty woman-goes-missing-novel-turned-movie: the magnificent, brilliant, and inimitable Gone Girl. Depending on who you ask, this film is basically a psychic sequel, and therefore anticipation has reached a fever pitch. Of course these two works, from different authors and adapted by different filmmakers, actually bear little resemblance to one another, outside of a few glaring but likely subconscious cribs in this one (how can one avoid casual Gone Girl rip-offs? It’s a perfect movie). For one, Gone Girl was far more viciously subversive. And for another, The Girl on the Train is borderline terrible.
All things considered, from the narrative to the underlying themes, The Girl on the Train is actually the anti-Gone Girl.
All things considered, from the narrative to the underlying themes, The Girl on the Train is actually the anti-Gone Girl. It centers on a surface plot with no shade or underlying human complexity, propagates a mystery for which additional context makes it less comprehensible, and employs a twist that is so magnificently ludicrous that it exposes the entire narrative as a house of cards. It’s also entirely predictable, so while the movie spins its wheels for the better part of 100 minutes, the audience sits waiting for the story to collapse in on itself. When the non-shocker is revealed, the implosion commences. Rare is the occasion when a viewer can predict both a plot twist and its eventual disastrous effect on the enterprise, but that occasion has arrived.
At the center of this mess are actually a couple of strong central performances. Emily Blunt is the titular “Girl,” Rachel, a divorcee on a permanent bender who turns drunken voyeurism into a sort of pro-bono career. Haley Bennett is Megan, the mysterious young enchantress who is the object of Rachel’s observational obsession. The film is at its strongest when it turns on the intrigue of these two performances. Rachel is in such a constant tumult of heartbreak and alcoholism that disorientation becomes her norm. Megan is newly married but adrift in her own chronic psychosexual tendencies, a wanderer who trusts no one, least of all herself. Blunt and Bennett offer an interesting Yin and Yang that might have been riveting if only the movie cared enough to explore the depths of the characters. Instead, they offer an entryway into a story that treats them as broad types and leads them into a hollow labyrinth of soap opera boilerplate.
The screenplay toys with using shifting points-of-view as a method of crafty disorientation, but breaks its own rules from one sequence to the next.
Having not read the Paula Hawkins novel on which this film is based, but acknowledging its immense popularity, I will give the author the benefit of the doubt in assuming this material works better in book form than as a film. Because on the screen, director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson, both solid talents, tangle themselves in a web of misdirection where the reality is less intriguing, and precipitously less plausible, than the MacGuffin. Rachel not only peeks in on Megan’s house, but also the neighboring one, which is conveniently where her ex-husband (Justin Theroux) lives with his new wife (Rebecca Ferguson). So when Megan goes missing, each of them emerges with their own motive for making her disappear. It’s a whodunit so caught up in its own concept that credibility becomes a tertiary concern and thematic depth falls off the radar entirely.
The screenplay toys with using shifting points-of-view as a method of crafty disorientation, but breaks its own rules from one sequence to the next. By the end, all the reveals so discordantly contrast with the broad hints sprinkled throughout the earlier sequences that one wonders if there were any rules at all. There’s an end note offering a whiff of gurrrrrl-power that might’ve been sardonic or empowering if it meant anything to the characters, but they’re all merely ciphers servicing the movie’s bottom line, which is to strap predictable tropes to a thin base concept and hope audiences come along for the ride.
Not me. I’m gone, Girl.
There’s an end note offering a whiff of gurrrrrl-power that might’ve been sardonic or empowering if it meant anything to the characters, but they’re all merely ciphers servicing the movie’s bottom line, which is to strap predictable tropes to a thin base concept and hope audiences come along for the ride.