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Review: The Girl on the Train…wants to get off

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Rather like my face throughout the movie...

Rather like my face throughout the movie…

Paula Hawkins’ phenomenally successful book may be ubiquitous, but I hadn’t read it, so I came to the film of The Girl On The Train knowing little of the plot. A mystery thriller with plenty of twists, it features a cast full of stars (Emily Blunt, Luke Evans, Justin Theroux, Eric Ramirez) and lesser knowns (Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett). It began as a mildly amusing film…that left me brimming with anger by the time the credits rolled.

Blunt plays Rachel (defining characteristic: alcoholic) who happens to see Scott (defining characteristic: manly aggression) and Megan (defining characteristic: sexy) from the train carriage window on her daily journey into the city. The snippets of their lives seem so pleasantly different to hers that she becomes obsessed with preserving that happiness. The happy couple conveniently live a few doors down from Rachel’s ex-husband Tom (defining characteristic: sainthood) and his new wife Anna (defining characteristic: husband stealer), who have a baby, a baby Rachel doesn’t have.

To say anything more about the plot spoils the twists. The Girl On The Train wants to slowly unfold the way these five people (and one maniac psychotherapist) are all interlinked…and how this connection descends into violence. And there’s the rub. There is no slow descent, there is just reveal after reveal. A plot twist is not a plot twist if a) you see it coming a mile off and b) you haven’t established the plot sufficiently in order to twist the conceived reality. So in its haste the film reduces the cast to tropes: good, bad, psychopathic.

There is nothing wrong with the acting, Blunt plays a great drunk and breathes life into Rachel, making her sympathetic, if ridiculous (although I was a big fan of her portable vodka bottle). As for the rest, they really try, but have so little to work with –  except mass multiple personality disorder – and make such dumb decisions that there is no redemption. Megan especially is horribly drawn, having to spend far too much time starkers (see: defining characteristic) which is not a fair representation of her complex story. Aren’t we beyond this? Can’t we have some nuance? Watching events unfold closely, we’re supposed to feel a certain way about each character, but meek Anna comes off as the scariest sociopath of them all. Even Alison Janney and Lisa Kudrow are wasted as plot devices masquerading as cameos.

The viewer is often asked to suspend their disbelief in this genre, but with this movie, it was worse than that, I just didn’t care what happened.  Tate Taylor was not a natural choice as director (this is in no way like his earlier directorial effort, The Help) and as a scriptwriter himself, he should have seen that the script material was lacklustre.

On the positive side, The Girl on The Train provides more screen time to female characters (perhaps why Taylor was chosen), which I applaud, but I’m not sure one scene in the entire film passes the Bechdel Test. The actions of the female characters are constantly defined by the males (you’re a man therefore I must believe everything you say), making the story depressingly old-fashioned.

Perhaps that’s the real twist. I thought I was going to see a sophisticated thriller about the manipulation of men by unreliable women, but The Girl On The Train is really a violent, schlocky story of male power, and that’s a tale that has already been told.

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2 Comments

  1. Excellent review. I agree with most of it. What don’t you agree with? I hear you ask. Nakedness is never a bad thing.

  2. I haven’t seen or read it- and although this review does not sing it’s praises, it’s certainly intrigues- is the book any better? I heard a comment yesterday “I’m a bt over “girl” novels now” in direct reference to this.

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