Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Girl On The Train (2016) misses its thrilling destination

The Girl on the Train movie review
Photo Credit: The Girl on the Train / Universal Pictures
Reading the book before an adaptation’s released is typically my M.O. There’s something special about fleshing out a novel into pockets of time, adding up pages here and there so I can feel a little bit more about the characters and story from my imagination in the movie. Last year, a psychological thriller The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was my latest attempt.

The premise was interesting enough: an alcoholic woman Rachel (Emily Blunt) commutes to the city on the train every day and night. From her seat window, she watches a mirror of the life she used to have play out with her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux), his wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their child. Getting glimpses of a neighboring couple Megan and Scott (Hayley Bennett and Luke Evans), Rachel finds purpose in imagining how idyllic their life must be. When Megan goes missing during one of her drunken stupors, she fears the worst and tries to discover the root of her disappearance.

Though fan and critic reviews aren’t favorable for the movie, I’m unsure how readers felt with this adaptation. For me, it’s weird to hold half-hearted expectations towards both, and wonder if the other one measures up. Putting my failed attempts to read the book aside, in a very strange way, the movie still doesn’t pan out.

It’s not for a lack of trying by the cast, most of all with Blunt as the star. Because of her alcoholism, Rachel is determined to figure out what happened the night Megan went missing. But because of it, her perspective of events are deceptive. Days blurring together in flashbacks and an overactive imagination reveal the illusions of her marriage, and the profound sorrow stemming from not being able to have a child. As an undependable source for half of the story, she's also wildly empathetic because for her sake you want to know what occurred. Nearly on-screen for the whole movie, Blunt gives a memorable performance of emptiness and desperation.

Outside of Rachel's mental and emotional carousel of delusions and realizations, this is where the mystery begins and ends. Surprisingly, there's no real investigation into Megan's disappearance except tidbits here and there. It's a high enough priority for a detective to visit Rachel and question her, but not get involved beyond the media reporting on it. Minor characters are swept to the side who could have a bigger impact. Except Rachel (and Scott) inching around the truth, there's no real sense of urgency to find Megan sooner rather than later.

While the movie tries to merge thrills with issues like infertility, the story skims the surface on both. A line seems to be drawn between the male characters who are red flags to pay attention to in relationships, and the female characters are much more interesting but aren't given much to work with. Every male character is a hormonal leech who want what they want (sex, kids, etc) no questions asked, while the women are shells of their former selves, facing pressure to conceive or not, and questioning their worth based on their husband's expectations. Rachel, Anna, and Megan are inextricably linked by these things, and Rebecca Ferguson and Hayley Benett are intriguing, but they're not given enough time to set themselves apart.

Given the enigmatic trend movies like Gone Girl, director Tate Taylor inadvertently or purposely echoes the atmosphere of David Fincher’s 2015 movie. Both have something in common with mixing a missing person’s case and a deeper exploration of marriage, but unlike Gone Girl, Taylor is a little out of his depth. His cinematography, cross-overs between characters and timelines, and vibe feels like a copy and doesn't live up to its inspiration.

I wish I could've stuck with the book, but I felt as stumped with its story as I did with the movie. Suspense lingers while Rachel's pain and discoveries unfold, but that doesn’t last long. If one guesses who the perpetrator is early in the story, and it’s not difficult to do, the big reveal is even less impressive. The biggest shock for me wasn’t the revelation of who killed Megan, but finding out that Rebecca Ferguson played Anna 'cause I never recognized her with blonde hair. Despite Blunt’s performance, The Girl On The Train never arrives at a place to be truly thrilling.

Rating: ★☆☆
Watch Instead: Gone Girl, Big Little Lies
Have you seen or read The Girl on the Train? What did you think?

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