The international bestseller from Paula Hawkins is now a full-length feature film, but does The Girl on the Train surpass its source material in terms of entertainment? Or does it diminish the book through its very existence?
Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a sad drunk wallowing in the memory of her failed marriage to Tom (Justin Theroux), who married Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and had a baby, Evie. She is unable to move on with her life, living in a spare room belonging to her friend, Cathy (Laura Prepon). Every day, Rachel takes the train into Manhattan and the route takes her past her old neighborhood. She has begun to fixate on a young couple that lives a few houses down from her old house. To Rachel, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) represent the perfect couple and the embodiment of love. Her world is shattered when she sees Megan on her porch with another man (Edgar Ramirez). In a drunken stupor, she disembarks the train at her old neighborhood with the idea of confronting Megan with her betrayal. When Rachel wakes up the next morning, she’s still in her clothes and her head is bloody. Oh, and Megan has been declared missing as well. What happened that fateful night? Rachel can’t remember due to her blackout, but the police are interested in the fact that she was poking around her street the night Megan went missing. Could Rachel have attacked Megan? If not her, then who?
When I posted my less than glowing review of Hawkins’ novel a few weeks ago, I wondered how Director Tate Taylor would tell this story since Hawkins used a cheap writing trick to conceal the identity of a major player throughout the novel. Well, the answer Taylor and Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson came up with was to speed through the events of the novel as fast as possible and skip over relevant interactions whenever possible. This way, when the big twist comes at the end of the film, there’s no way for the audience to even guess it because the lack of character and relationship development in the script leads the big revelation to come completely out of nowhere. Now, I wasn’t entirely pleased that I had figured out the book’s central mystery halfway through the novel, but at least I was given the tools to put it together. The film simply focuses on Rachel, her missing time, and her downward spiral, but it’s never as bad as it ever gets in the book. All the characters felt softened for the film. In the novel, I found each and every character—save one—to be reprehensible, but with the film you never get the chance to hate them that much because you never really get to know them all that well. That may be due to the fact that the novel is told from the point of the view of the three female leads, while in the film, the only character’s head we get into is Rachel. All the scenes with Anna and Megan felt weirdly distant, which was a little frustrating considering the novel’s nature.
So, if we’re getting less character work, then surely Taylor and Wilson will give us a more compelling take on the mystery at the center of the story? Wrong again. Without the character touches from the novel, you end up not caring about any of these people either way. The quick hustle through the plot felt like the filmmakers were working harder to keep the audience from getting bored, since the film on the whole is pretty dull. There were a lot of unintentionally hilarious scenes here as you watch Rachel make stupid choice after stupid choice. By the end, you don’t really care what’s going to happen.
The acting is fine, but the one shining light is Emily Blunt as Rachel. She can’t help how the character is written, but she gives a hell of a performance of a woman slipping into the abyss. Everyone else is done a disservice by the weak script. None of them really have a lot to sink their teeth into. They all just seem to be going through the motions, though Bennett has some nice scenes here and there.
I was hoping that the film adaptation of The Girl on the Train would fix some of the issues I had with the novel, but the filmmakers found a way to make a more inferior product. Blunt is spectacular, but it’s all undercut by the subpar script. Of course, as I pointed out in my novel review, the story was just okay to begin with, so the filmmakers didn’t have the best starting point. You can totally skip this one, but check it out on cable to at least see Emily Blunt showing why she should be headlining more movies.