Off The Rails: What “The Girl on the Train” Gets Wrong
At first glance The Girl on the Train looks like the fall blockbuster of the year. It has all the elements of a crowd pleaser: it is based on a best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins, stars British power actress Emily Blunt, and includes enough “sexy thrills” for anyone looking for some good old-fashioned pulpy entertainment. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do much else. In an age where many filmmakers are trying to push the envelope with convention-bending fare, Girl on the Train tries to persuade viewers that it is a classic Hollywood thriller without actually filling its insides with any substance.
The Girl on the Train has often been called “the next Gone Girl”, a reference to the 2012 book and subsequent 2015 film starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike that captivated audiences with its diabolical plot and unreliable narrators. There are many things that these two films have in common. Both tell the story of the strange disappearance of a seemingly happy but mysterious beautiful woman; in The Girl on the Train’s case it is Megan Hipwell (played by Haley Bennett), a young nanny living with her husband in a New York suburb. Everyday Hipwell is watched from the train by Rachel Watson (Blunt), an alcoholic divorcee who used to be her neighbor, but now fantasizes about returning to her seemingly happy life with her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux). Tom is now married to the younger Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who had an affair with him while he was still married to Rachel. Tom and Anna have a baby daughter while Rachel spends her days in and out of a drunken stupor, remembering some things but being told of other humiliating exploits.
Like Gone Girl, the true action starts once Megan goes missing. Rachel believes she saw something that may answer where the younger woman is, but her personal demons and connection to the situation first disqualifies her as a reliable witness, and then begins to incriminate her in Rachel’s disappearance. Like Affleck’s Nick Dunne, Rachel is heavily flawed, but unlike that film’s morally ambiguous conclusion, she manages to overcome these issues to try and solve the crime (no spoilers). The MVP of the film is obviously Blunt, as her depiction of a woman suffering alcoholism is not over the top or goofy, but instead sad and reserved, showing that those suffering from such an addiction attempt to hide their debilitation no matter how much they are under the influence. Unfortunately, most of the other actors put in Lifetime movie of the week performances. Gone Girl succeeded because of the dark and deft tone by David Fincher, one of the most revered directors of the modern age. Girl on the Train’s Tate Taylor has directed actors to awards recognition before (including Octavia Spencer in 2011’s The Help), but Taylor trying to emulate Fincher’s style comes off like a high school music teacher playing Miles Davis; the tune is there, but with none of the genius.
Ultimately, The Girl on the Train is totally watchable. It has enough albeit semi-predictable twists to make it entertaining fare, and it’s a fine date movie as film lovers await the slew of Oscar candidates being released in the coming months. However, anyone going to see a true paperback suspense is going to come home more than slightly disappointed. Although the film follows the recipe of what made Gone Girl such a hit, it does not feel that any of the attention to detail is there to elevate it from its mediocre reality. 5.9/10
Ethan Gordon is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of Juris Diction.