The popularity and success of Gone Girl has sparked something in production companies, giving them new hope that movies other sequels and spin-offs can make money. And just as The Hunger Games bred a genre of morbid dystopian teen-staring movies, Gone Girl has bred the Thriller/Drama/Mystery for women genre. And yes, this movie was actually marketed that way. Like Gone Girl, the initial impression from the trailer is that a perfect, beautiful couple has their dark secrets revealed when the perfect, beautiful woman goes missing. However, The Girl on the Train complicates things a bit. Ok, perhaps it complicates things A LOT. The Girl on the Train (adapted from Paula Hawkins’ 2015 novel of the same name) does something brilliant with its plot, in that it follows the thriller trope of being downright outlandish, while simultaneously being eerily plausible.
If you haven’t seen (or read) The Girl on the Train, I suggest you turn back now. I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about the plot, but there will certainly be plots points discussed in review.
*spoilers under the cut*
I should start by stating that I read the book back in the spring, so whether or not the movie was difficult to follow is hard for me to say with any certainty. But I will say this — I was very concerned that my friend who joined me in seeing this film (and had not read the book) was totally lost for at least the first hour and half of the movie. But this is not really a fault of the film’s, because had I been giving the arduous task of adapting this novel into a movie, I wouldn’t even know where to start. Actually, the movie was very close to the book, which was impressive. I definetely expected a lot of details to be cut out, and honestly the movie is a little lengthy in the middle, but there aren’t many details that could have been cut. Also, the movie is supposed to be confusing for a little while. Viewers are supposed to be lost and struggling to put together all these fragments of a complete story. You’ll definetely want to make sure you’re wide awake and paying attention when you watch this movie because there are a lot of details and characters to follow.
A large criticism I had was that every character in the movie is middle-aged, middle to upper class, conventionally attractive, and WHITE. This wasn’t a huge deal in the book, but you can understand why this would be a problem as they moved this complex and layered story to the screen. Besides the obvious representation issue here, the characters look so similar that I could hardly tell them apart. I could pick out Emily Blunt because she was playing the main character (and also because she’s Emily Blunt), but the other women are entirely forgettable. Also I was really distracted because one of them looked like a discount Jennifer Lawrence and I kept doing double takes thinking JLaw had swept in and taken over this movie like she did with the X-Men franchise.
The acting was an overall fine job, with the superb exception of Emily Blunt, who I firmly believes deserves an Oscar nomination for this performance. She played the part of the insane, alcoholic, obsessive Rachel to perfection. I’ll admit that I was concerned Emily Blunt was a bit of a glamorous choice for this role, but the characterization was spot on and I really did believe the psychotic nature of her character. Speaking of that psychotic nature, I’m disappointed that the story ended with all the accusations of the things she did while blackout drunk turning out to be false and actually perpetrated by Tom. I’m disappointed because I felt the strength of the story came from how genuinely unstable Rachel was, and I felt like it was really a copout for Rachel to be cleared of all charges, so to speak. It’s true that Rachel was not responsible for this particular incident, but she still had a very bad drinking problem and I was upset that the story discounted that in its resolution. For being so dark and twisted, the movie really did wrapped nicely in a bow. Again, that goes back to the book more than the film itself, but I was still dissatisfied with it.
Revisiting the idea that this movie was a new genre of Thriller/Drama/Mystery for women, the cinematography was very visually appealing, as were all of the actors. The sets and costumes where representative of the modern ideal and they appeal largely to the middle-class women. I don’t really like the fact that they had to make a new genre of movie, as if they didn’t think women could follow or enjoy a regular Thriller/Drama/Mystery movie. But worse than that, the ending of this movie isn’t even all that brilliant. I’d even go so far as to call it cliche. So even though this movie is called a Thriller/Drama/Mystery, it fails to challenge any ideas of the genre. Also, the ending was pretty terrible. For one, the movie revealed a huge piece of information way too early, so the viewer knows who did it and still has 45 minutes of the film left. After such an interesting plot, I couldn’t help but feel let down by the ending.
But really, my criticisms are pretty picky. As a lover of Thriller/Drama/Mystery, I have really high standards. I suppose that most of my issue with this movie wasn’t actually with the movie at all, but with the book. As a movie, it was well produced, shot, and the actors did well. Overall, this movie is an entertaining watch and at the very least it will give you something to talk about at your holiday parties. It’s very engaging, keeps you guessing, and by the end of it you feel like you ran a marathon trying to keep up with its crazy plot. It’s a very fun (and dark) movie.
I give The Girl on the Train a B+ and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a sharp film that asks viewers to use their brains.