Friday, October 7, 2016

'The Girl On The Train' Is A Formidable Thriller



This review originally appeared on SFist.com.

Following the success of Gillian Flynn's 2012 novel Gone Girl, (though I would posit The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is probably where it really started), there has been a seemingly endless stream of similar novels, most with either "woman" or "girl" in the title, and all centered on some kind of mystery. (I'll admit to reading way too many of them.)

Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train, which was released early last year, was one of the more successful books to follow that formula, and its film rights were bought before it was even published. It's a fast read, with a pretty good build-up to its central dead-girl-mystery, but it suffers from an annoyingly choppy writing style and a disappointing ending.

One of the book's biggest problems is the central character of Rachel, who is such a pathetic and drunken mess that she inspires more annoyance than pity. You just want to slap her, hand her a copy of Lemonade, and tell her to make like Bey and get a different kind of pissed.

Luckily, the movie has Emily Blunt in the role of Rachel. While she's still a drunken mess, Blunt is able to garner our sympathy for this Rachel, who is really trying to hold it together (though her alcoholism makes that almost impossible). Blunt plays drunk — or more specifically, a drunk trying very hard not to appear drunk — exceedingly well, and she also looks like hell through most of it.

Rachel is the titular girl on the train, which she rides from her lonely room in the suburbs and into Manhattan every day. (In a nod to the book's original English setting, Blunt retains her British accent, but the book's U.K.-centric canned gin and tonics are dropped in favor of vodka in a water bottle.) On those rides, Rachel becomes entranced by one of the houses she passes and the seemingly happily-married couple who lives there.

But on one of those train trips, she sees the woman kissing another man. The next day, Rachel learns the woman has disappeared. And Rachel fears she herself might have something to do with it.

Because, you see, Rachel also passes by another house on those train trips. It's the house she used to live in with her husband, Tom (Justin Theroux). He still lives there, only now it's with the woman he left Rachel for, and their infant daughter. And Rachel has a tendency to, after her usual 10 or so too-many drinks, drop by there unannounced. This is something she fears she may have done the night of the neighbor's disappearance. Unfortunately, her drunken blackout is only allowing her to remember flashes of events that may or may not have happened.

While Rachel is the center of the story, the movie also jumps into the lives of Meghan (Haley Bennett) — the woman who disappears — and Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), Tom's new wife. And it's those peeks into the private moments of three different women who are all dealing, in some form or another, with fidelity, motherhood, and the expectations of their gender, that makes the movie a bit more interesting than your standard whodunnit. While I wouldn't say the film is overtly "feminist," (not that there's anything wrong with that!), it is intensely feminine, loaded with moments, both exhilarating and traumatic, that will resonate a lot more with women than they will with men.

Readers of the book may be wondering if its worth it to see the film, since they know the ending already. That ending was one of the biggest problems I had with the book, and I can easily say, without giving anything away, that the movie does a much better job with it; there's a benefit to being able to show things instead of having characters simply explain it all.

The Girl on the Train may not reach the heights of a cinematic classic like Rear Window — a clear influence — but it's still a formidable thriller, and more impressively, an adaptation that actually improves on the blockbuster book it was based on.

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