Mark Reviews Movies

The Girl on the Train (2016)


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Tate Taylor

Cast: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Édgar Ramírez, Allison Janney, Laura Prepon, Darren Goldstein, Lisa Kudrow

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, sexual content, language and nudity)

Running Time: 1:52

Release Date: 10/7/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 6, 2016

Based on Paula Hawkins novel about the inner lives of three women and the men who wrong them, The Girl on the Train becomes something of an accidental and haphazard mystery. The first element—that of accident—is key to the story, since our heroine has no desire to find herself caught up in something bigger than her own problems. Those problems are significant enough.

She's an alcoholic who hasn't realized it yet. Every day, she rides the train from a small town to the big city. On the way there, she waits for the moment that she can watch an anonymous, happy couple in the throes of love and passion from the window of the train. On the way home, she takes big gulps of vodka. The drinking usually leads to a series of calls or text messages to her ex-husband. The morning always brings with it a hangover of regret over what she realizes she did and misery over the fact that she can't stop it.

This is where we find Rachel (Emily Blunt) at the start of the movie. The mystery comes soon after with the disappearance of Megan (Haley Bennett), one half of the happy couple that Rachel spies on her train ride.

Megan disappears on one of Rachel's more drunken nights. Our protagonist blacks out and cannot remember what happened, except that she resented Megan. That morning, on the balcony of Megan and her husband Scott's (Luke Evans) home, Rachel witnessed the woman kissing another man.

Rachel intimately knows that sort of betrayal, since her own ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) left her for another woman. Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), formerly the other woman, is now married to Tom, and the couple has a baby.

The underlying story of these relationships is, essentially, a soap opera, although Hawkins' novel had the good sense to keep the narrative's focus on the ways her female characters' minds worked. In the case of Rachel, there's also the problem of her lapses in memory, leading more than a few people—including Rachel herself—to wonder about her whereabouts and actions on the night Megan disappeared.

The screenplay, adapted by Erin Cressida Wilson, starts with the women's thought processes. Rachel, Megan, and Anna each have an introductory narration that accompanies their day-to-day routines. The portrait of each woman is one of misery: Rachel for reasons that have been identified, Megan hiding a secret about her past from everyone, and Anna worrying that Rachel's constant communication with Tom is a reason to fear for herself and/or her child.

Wilson's screenplay jumps into the mystery of Megan's disappearance and follows through on it without similar consideration for the characters. The through line here is one of constant, escalating misery, as each new revelation about the missing woman, as well as the two who are tied to her by strange circumstance, gives us yet another reason to pity these characters.

"Pity," unfortunately, is the right word here. There's a distinct sense of distance from the trio of women, since Wilson and director Tate Taylor have latched onto the mystery, which is the story's least involving—but most plot-friendly—element. With the screenplay focusing on a point-by-point breakdown of the plot, we're left with three women whose decisions and behavior often seem irrational (hence why the way in which the mystery plays out seems haphazard). Their trials come across as exploitative melodrama.

There is, for example, no logical reason for Rachel to carry on with Scott in the way that she does. At first, she visits to inform him that she saw his wife kissing another man, thinking it will "help." The movie hints that she might have another motive (She sneaks glimpses at him and watches him while he's sleeping) without taking it any further. Similarly, Rachel sees Megan's therapist (Édgar Ramírez), a pretty lousy example of his profession, to gauge his reaction when she presents her thoughts on infidelity. A lot of these scenes end up existing solely to throw red herrings at us.

The movie's use of abuse as a plot device becomes rather discomforting, too. It's another constant in the same vein as the women's agony. Every main character here is either an abuser or in denial of that abuse. Wilson and Taylor are less concerned with the psychology of those relationships than they are the dramatic and narrative results.

There's the way Megan, whose story plays out in flashbacks that eventually catch up to the present, finds Scott's rampant jealousy appealing, and there's also how Anna becomes like Rachel, who found out about Tom's affair by checking his emails. The movie makes odd moral exceptions for some of this behavior, since sometimes the underlying feelings are, more or less, justified. A last-act twist turns the tables on Rachel's role as an unreliable narrator, which would be intriguing if not for the way it turns psychological abuse into a plot gimmick.

Some of this distressing material could have been avoided with just a little more attention to the characters. The Girl on the Train, though, only sees them as pieces in a puzzle. They only matter in that their pain can be assembled into a clear-cut picture that answers the mystery.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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