By Christian DiMartino
It kind of went without saying that The Girl on the Train was expected to be this year’s Gone Girl. By that. I mean that they’re both smart, female-driven thrillers. The Girl on the Train isn’t as good as Gone Girl, considering David Fincher’s film was basically perfect. But Tate Taylor’s (The Help, Get on Up) film is every bit as entertaining as that film was, and basically, Emily Blunt does for this film what Rosamund Pike did for that one: she anchors it.
The bad reviews were a little disappointing, of course. Claiming that the film “flies off the rails” (get it? Train? Whatever), and I suppose in some ways it kind of does. What should’ve been a shocking, explosive climax was explosive enough, but not quite shocking. My sister and I called it about halfway through, and I’ve never once picked up a copy of the bestselling novel. Still, what leads up to it is thoroughly entertaining, and since this is basically my favorite genre, I more than gladly went along for the ride.
Blunt gives probably her best performance (though the Academy loves to snub her so it’ll probably happen again) as Rachel, and man what a character she is. She’s an unemployed, horribly depressed drunk who rides a train to Manhattan every day just for a ride, basically. But on this trips, she watches two homes: one is that of her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his mistress and current wife (Rebecca Ferguson), who have a baby together. This is a fatal blow to Rachel, since she is unable to have children. Hence… why she’s a mad alcoholic.
The other home is that of a mystery couple, Megan and Scott (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans), who to Rachel, appear to be the “embodiment of true love,” as she calls it. She watches them and longs to be them. But things fly off the rails (alright, I’ll use it too) when during one of her train rides, she spots Megan with another man. She’s suddenly consumed with anger, so what does she do next? That’s a good question, actually.
Following a drunken stupor the night before, Rachel wakes up covered in blood, with no recollection of why. To make matters worse, Megan is missing. So, we’re left to wonder: who could it be? Could it be her husband, Scott? Could it be Megan’s therapist (Edgar Ramirez)? Or, could it be Rachel herself? Allison Janney plays a detective, in a good performance but kind of a weird one. We also get appearances from Laura Prepon and Lisa Kudrow that come and go too quickly.
Now, think back to prior “obsession thrillers,” like Fatal Attraction or Single White Female. I’m a big fan of those films, and what works about The Girl on the Train is that, in some ways, it adds sort of a spin on them. For once, the crazy girl is actually the hero. I also liked the way the story was told. Some might call it manipulative, but in telling it in the perspective of the three women at play (Ferguson’s character less so), you see more room for playfulness. This is the way these women envisioned it, but in some cases, not how it all went down.
Granted, after a while it does become obvious as to how it’s all going to play out. See, I normally don’t try to think through these things, but once I started laying the pieces on the table, it just kind of spelled itself out. Also, some of cinematography felt like something out of a Lifetime movie. But contrary to what most are saying, I say The Girl on the Train works, in more ways than one.
Basically, it’s not a film that sets out to change your life. But rather, it sets out to entertain, and this is a film that held me in its grip until the end. In fact, no real judgement was made until it was over, because I was so curious to see how it was all going to turn out. Then, we have the acting. The film might not have worked if not for Blunt, who in the early parts of the film acts through facial expressions. To me, that’s real acting. Showing, not telling. It’s a tragic, nuanced performance, and there’s not a false note. But hey, everyone else is pretty good too. Oh yeah, and Danny Elfman’s score is kind of great.
This Girl might not be a Gone Girl. But she’s still a good Girl. If not a bit of an unhinged, flawed one.