Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Girl on the Train: Movie Review

Great lead character leads the film astray.

Part of the problem with The Girl on the Train is that it’s not the film it was meant to be – this is of course assuming we know what it was meant to be; or at the very least it’s not the film it seems like it should be. Let’s start with the pedigree: it’s based on a popular thriller novel by Paula Hawkins, and stars it-girl, always-on-the-cusp-of-making-it-huge Emily Blunt. She’s always seemingly one good role or one big movie away from an Oscar. This could have been it.   2016

Directed by: Tate Taylor

Screenplay by: Erin Cressida Wilson
Based on the novel by Paula Hawkins

Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson

Released one year after Gone Girl, it is following in the footsteps of that box office hit, critical smash that turned a popular crime thriller mystery novel into serious filmmaking. It should be noted that Gone Girl fell short of its Oscar hopes, arguably because of one scene which turned everything a bit too campy and too extreme. That is The Girl on the Train’s downfall as well: set up as a standard mystery with a fascinating lead character, the film frequently went a bit too campy, and too extreme.

Emily Blunt plays Rachel, a woman who used to be married, and now takes a daily commuter train past the house she used to be married in. It’s now occupied by her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Every day she can obsess about the life she wanted, almost had, and then lost. She also obsesses about the perfect couple a few houses down from her old house: except they’re not perfect. Husband Scott (Luke Evans) probably doesn’t know about wife Megan (Haley Bennett) and her many affairs easily observed by passengers on the commuter train.

The mystery is that Megan goes missing, and because Rachel feels that she knows these people, she’s going to help solve the mystery. But now let’s get into what makes the film good: Rachel and Emily Blunt’s terrific performance as the very damaged heroine.

It becomes very obvious very quickly that Rachel is an alcoholic. She is extremely unhappy with the life she now leads and just drinks. Throughout the film, we get bits and pieces to Rachel’s past marriage and how it ended, and her attempts to win Tom back. We also get the sense of how unstable Rachel is and how many disturbing character traits she’s hiding from us and from herself. Which of course makes her an unreliable narrator. Which is an excellent narrative choice, but not used very effectively.

The Girl on the Train is trying to walk that line between entertaining and serious filmmaking, and that’s where it falls off. It is reasonably entertaining, particularly with all of Rachel’s ill-advised decisions, but it doesn’t tell the story as cleanly or as interestingly as it could have.