Director: Tate Taylor
Stars: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Luke Evans
The Girl On The Train is the latest bestselling ‘girl’ thriller to get squeezed through the Hollywood machine, but it’s the one that comes sputtering out the other end with the least amount of grace, presented to us as a clumsy assemblage of plot holes, rote characters and poorly constructed nonsense. It’s trailer – snappily cut together to a Kanye West track (how edgy!) – suggested a film ambitious for the same twisted grown-ups-only enjoyment factor that David Fincher so successfully drew from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, but Tate Taylor’s film doesn’t even warrant basic comparison. No, this is a mess of the highest (or more fittingly, lowest) order, one likely to snatch several awards… but only at the Razzies.
Just as the whole story has been shunted from the UK to the US, so Emily Blunt is wonkily miscast as Rachel, a functioning alcoholic who doesn’t once look like she’s remotely functioning at all. Granted, she plays drunk reasonably well at times, but Taylor’s depiction of alcoholism is woefully basic and caricatured. Blunt is allowed no range outside of bleary eyed mania which she heroically maintains for nearly two solid hours here as a trite mystery unfolds. She rides the train into New York and back every day, unable to cope with losing her husband (Justin Theroux) and fantasising about a couple living beside the tracks whom she imprints with her own ideals.
The girl off the train is Megan (Haley Bennett, recently seen in The Magnificent Seven); a nanny with an aversion to children who is married to cardboard hunk Scott (Luke Evans). One day Rachel sees Megan on her balcony with someone else. Jumping to conclusions and triggering her own obsessive self-loathing, Rachel goes on a bender, has a contrived blackout and wakes up covered in blood. Now Megan is missing and the police are knocking at Rachel’s door.
I’ve not read Paula Hawkins’ smash hit novel on which this is based, but I can only assume it pieces together it’s puzzle with more elegance than Taylor’s fumbled movie, which conspicuously leaves it’s clues out in the open for all to see. Like a wannabe card shark too rookie for the big leagues, you can spot his tells a mile away. Hell, by process of elimination alone it’s possible to riddle out this drab whodunnit several reels before the film spills it’s so-called secrets.
But what sits more awkwardly is the use of Rachel’s alcoholism as convenient framing device for the mystery in the first place. The disease is not explored in any thoughtful or empathetic way here and, come the end, is exposed for what it is – just another lazy crutch on which this entire folly is leaning. SPOILER ALERT: as soon as it isn’t a necessary excuse for hiding information from the audience, it goes away. Like it was nothing to begin with.
Along the way Taylor’s tone is super-serious, so much so that the wooden dialogue and uneasy performances show their flaws openly. I was not alone in laughing at the film in the screening I attended. Not with the film. At it. There are some big unintentionally funny moments here, but the mirth is gone in the instant it is evoked. The Girl On The Train is not so-bad-it’s-good, it’s so-bad-it’s-boring, and if I hadn’t been sat mid-row, and if I hadn’t had it in mind to review the film after, I might very easily have walked out somewhere in the middle.
There is a relentless sense that Taylor is trying too hard. Fincher’s film was clearly in mind, but he seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what made it work. Thrillers like this are enjoyed because they run off the rails of plausibility with buoyancy. We want to embrace the lunacy. But that furrowed brow remains so stubbornly here that, when things get crazier, the audience isn’t taken along for the ride. We’re left pondering who thought this garbage was a good idea. Never is this more evident than when Taylor aims for sexy. This film is never sexy, and is at it’s most pathetic when it aims to be. Fifty Shades Of Grey was a sexier film than this. Assembling Ikea furniture is sexier than this.
It’s not as if this film unravels sadly. The problems stack up from the very first scene when we’re presented with a cumbersome and totally unnecessary narration from Blunt’s Rachel. As the film switches perspective, so too does the narration. Such handholding ought not be required, and smacks of uncertainty behind the scenes. Or else a patronising assumption that the audience won’t enjoy doing some of the work which is part of the draw with movies like this in the first place. It’s another irritating hindrance, one that quite pointedly suggests that Erin Cressida Wilson’s screenplay was a rush job in order to get production underway as fast as possible.
A nod to the crew then for making this all seem moderately presentable. In spite of Taylor’s best efforts, The Girl On The Train at least looks like a competent film, even if picking at it even a little reveals that it’s anything but. There’s a wealth of strength in the supporting cast here (Allison Janney being your shining exhibit A), and Blunt is usually a solid presence, but intent and reality can sometimes land far, far away from each other as is brazenly the case here.
Blunt’s Rachel refers to herself – in that dreaded narration – as a girl. She’s a girl at the start of the film and she’s a girl at the end. Isn’t it about time we started making movies about women? Three dimensional women who don’t get caught up in shit like this? The Girl On The Train isn’t as bad as you’ve heard. It’s worse.