The Girl on the Train is this year’s Gone Girl – the wildly successful book turned into a pulpy thriller with a Hollywood cast.
Except, unlike Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train is pretty rubbish. Gone Girl was absolutely ridiculous, but it was well directed, well-acted and had enough exciting twists and turns to make you forget how utterly stupid it was.
Sadly for the newer film, it can only rely on its cast to disguise the wobbly plot.
On the positive side, Emily Blunt does her best as Rachel, an alcoholic who’s split with her husband and who thinks she sees something untoward in her old neighbourhood.
Blunt not only manages to handle the tricky skill of acting drunk, but she also (just about) manages to sell the various ill-advised decisions her character makes.
Hayley Bennett, as the missing Megan, and Justin Theroux as Rachel’s ex-husband also do their best with the script, while Alison Janney is criminally underused as the Police Detective investigating Megan’s disappearance.
Other positives? The last 15 minutes are enjoyable enough as the threads finally come together and the ending is reasonably satisfying.
That’s about it though. As I say, it’s not very good.
For starters – and most egregiously – it’s unbelievably slow for a pulpy thriller. I’ve not read the book, so this might be a flaw of the novel, but the film is choc-full of flashbacks which cripple the forward momentum of the story. Some of these flashbacks do drive the plot forward (very slowly), but the sheer amount of them means every time you begin to engage with Rachel’s investigation of the mystery, you’re suddenly dragged out of it by another flashback.
The lack of propulsion, in turn, makes you less forgiving of the pulpiness of the plot and the interminable dialogue.
Like Gone Girl, the plot is pretty dumb. Rachel keeps seeing a couple (Megan and her husband, Scott) outside their house as she passes on the train. As it happens, they are both always outside at the exact moment the train passes (on the balcony kissing, or huddled beside a fire). Handily, they are also only two doors down from the house Rachel used to share with her husband (who now has another wife, Anna).
One day, Rachel spots Megan outside – again! – with someone who isn’t her husband. Obsessed and suffering from alcoholism, she decides to leave the train and confront her. Hours later Megan is missing and Rachel can’t remember what happened.
Even if you can ignore the fact Megan is outside more often than Bear Grylls, the film was littered with lazy plotting. From Rachel routinely roaming the area where her ex-husband lives with impunity; to the shrink she manages to get an appointment with despite both being under suspicion by the Police; to the casual lack of interest the detectives seem to be drumming up for the entire case.
Gone Girl had similarly silly twists, but it was a faster, more immersive experience. It was only after you’d left the cinema that you’d realise you’d been watching 120 minutes of stupidity. With The Girl on the Train, I didn’t enjoy it enough to forgive it.
The plot plays with important issues such as motherhood, abortion and abuse, but it uses them in such a superficial way that it barely matters; the script is only interested in using them to advance the plot (I kept thinking of how much better films like Tyrannosaur discussed those themes as part of the story).
In an attempt to show it’s commitment to serious issues, the dialogue is portentous and faux-weighty, but it’s also unbelievable.
For example, there’s one section of dialogue which appears to be spoken in voiceover. It’s university-grade pretentious but, hey, it’s a voiceover. And then you realise someone’s actually speaking those words to another person.
No one in real life would speak the way the characters do in this.
That it’s fake wouldn’t be such a problem if the plot had been better though. As it is, it’s as weak a thriller as I’ve seen this year.