The Girl on the Train
Directed by: Tate Taylor.
Written by: Erin Cressida Wilson based on the novel by Paula Hawkins.
Starring: Emily Blunt (Rachel), Haley Bennett (Megan), Rebecca Ferguson (Anna), Justin Theroux (Tom), Luke Evans (Scott), Edgar Ramírez (Dr. Kamal Abdic), Laura Prepon (Cathy), Allison Janney (Detective Riley), Lisa Kudrow (Martha).
Paula Hawkins The Girl on the Train was a hugely successful, page-turner thriller, which if we’re being honest, the thriller elements are the weakest parts. It tells the story of the disappearance of Megan – a beautiful, blonde woman, living with her husband in suburbia, who seemingly has the perfect life. At least, that’s what Rachel thinks – she is the novel’s main character, a commuter who stares out the window of her train every day, and looks in on Megan’s life – even though she doesn’t know her. Megan and her husband do live a few houses down from Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom – and his new wife Anna, and their baby daughter – a pain that has driven Rachel to become an alcoholic, who will not leave her ex and his family alone. The novel uses Megan’s disappearance as an excuse to delve into the minds of Rachel – in the present, Megan, in the past leading up to that disappearance, and eventually Anna. All three are women who in some ways feel trapped, but for different reasons. Yes, the novel is a whodunit, but really the resolution of that- especially the action climax – is the weakest part of the book. It’s far more interesting to get to know the various women in the novel.
In adapting the hit novel for the screen, the filmmakers have flattened the characters far too much – instead of being individual women, longing for something else – Rachel to go back to the days when she was in love with her husband, before her infertility and drinking ruined everything, Anna to the excitement of being the “other woman” instead of the bored housewife, and Megan, who has a history of fleeing when she gets bored doing the same thing once again – they all basically become bored, flat, sad people – more likely to sit there and stare out the window than do anything else. Any complexity is drained from them. The male characters, which were already fairly one-dimensional on the page, are even more so in the movie. Perhaps this would be forgivable if they had found a way to at least make a good, trashy thriller – but they haven’t done that either. By necessity, the plot has been streamlined for the movie, but it’s been streamlined to the point that some of the already iffy jumps the novel makes become practically incoherent onscreen.
I hesitate to call out the performances too much in the film, but truth be told they don’t help much. Best of the lot is Emily Blunt – who has the juiciest role as Rachel – the woman drowning in guilt, who inserts herself into the investigation, and spends much of the movie drunk. Blunt overdoes the drunken slurring at times in the film, but mainly, she gets things right. The movie does try to make her more sympathetic than the novel (the movie, I feel, makes more excuses for her). Haley Bennett as Megan fares less well – in the novel, she is sympathetic, especially as more details come out about her life up until then. In the movie, she’s basically playing an entitled narcissist, who basically revels in her out self-pity, unless her character is being hyper-sexualized. Anna, the thinnest of the three women in the novel, is barely a character here – there’s the now clichéd shot of the wife completely looking bored as her husband has sex with her, which basically stands in as the entire motivation for her character. Her actions in the climax – which made little sense in the novel, in the film make absolutely no sense. I don’t really fault Rebecca Ferguson for that – she didn’t have a character to play. The film basically wastes the talents of Allison Janney as a Detective, and Lisa Kudrow as an old acquaintance of Rachel’s – and the less said about the work of Justin Theroux as Rachel’s ex-husband, Luke Evans and Megan’s husband and Edgar Ramirez as a psychiatrist, the better.
I’ve seen a lot of people try and compare The Girl on the Train to Gone Girl – the comparison has always struck me as strange, not least because I think Gone Girl, as a novel, has a lot more going for it than The Girl on the Train (I never considered Gone Girl to be a “trashy” thriller). That was a darkly, comic thriller, that touched on a hell of a lot more than Hawkins novel did. But what The Girl on the Train, the novel did, was delve into the world of these three women – get behind the façade that all three of them show to the outside world, peeling back layer after layer like an onion – the thriller plot just an excuse to keep going further. The movie fails at doing that – which admittedly, is hard, because with little or no interior monologue of the women, it’s more difficult to pull off in the movie. Less forgivable, it fails as a thriller – there’s no excuse for not making this at least a juicy, guilty pleasure.