“Why does Hollywood keep doing this?” – Dara Higgins reviews The Girl On The Train
Rachel likes to watch from the train on her commute from the picket fenced burbs into Manhattan of a morning. Don’t we all. When you see the same people time after time, even from a distance, maybe you begin to think you’ve some kind of bond with them. Exacerbated, no doubt, by one’s personal problems.
Rachel’s an unreliable narrator, but her excuse is she’s a drunk, an avid, all day drinker. She’s sozzled. There’s gaps in her memory, things are hazy and blacked out. Megan is also unreliable, as she admits to her therapist that she lies. She lies to everyone, all the time. Anna’s problem is her delusion. She lives the lie. She has to. She too has done things to get what she wants. These are our protagonists, and between their voices and flashback a plot is weaved when Rachel, tipsy, spies something from the train on her daily boozy stalker-commute. Was Megan, the young woman living the life Rachel believes she once had, doing something she ought not? Intrigue! Fuelled by a bacchanalian lack of inhibition. When Megan subsequently goes missing, Rachel thinks she knows why, but isn’t entirely sure, having woken up covered in crud and vomit. Flashbacks are muddled and confusing, moments of clarity dotted throughout.
Slowly Rachel unravels the mystery, but as it goes on, it ceases to be much a mystery, boxing itself into an inevitable conclusion and hackneyed, mirthless denouement.
Not having read Paula Hawkins’s popular tome of the same name puts me in the enviable position of a) not knowing the “twist” and b) not having any expectations. As such, it was grand. Fine. Not great, but not awful. It begs a further question, though. Why does Hollywood keep doing this? Filming the latest popular twist-y novel? When the cat’s already out of the bag, and the cat, i.e. the ending, is such a huge part of selling the idea, what’s the point? The answer is clear: a lack of imagination, both on behalf of Hollywood, which seems to be mostly staid biopics, spandex man-child movies and adaptations, and Hollywood’s assumption that you, the reader and viewer lack the imagination to fill in the pictures as you read, and must be lead by the nose through the story. And let’s not forget the cashing in on the latest new thing, while it’s still hot.
Emily Blunt’s blotchy faced, stumbling Rachel is adroitly played, whereas Rebecca Ferguson’s glassy faced Anna seems dead on the inside and the outside, struggling with her two-dimensionality. The main players are ably helped along by some of television’s notable stalwarts: Lisa Kudrow, Laura Prepon, Alison Janney fill their small roles admirably.
The male characters are almost cyphers, defined by their characteristics: jealous, angry, self serving, self regarding. There’s a distinct lack of motivation or backstory. Why they act certain ways isn’t clear, or interrogated. Which is what watching most movies as a woman must be like, when females are presented as hysterical or calculating or merely eye candy. Unfortunately most of the characters, much like the ending, are straight out of cinema’s stock room. Despite some nods to stultifying suburban boredom and domesticity, Girl On A Train fails to achieve any depth, and does so without cracking even one joke.