Overview: An alcoholic woman who commutes back and forth to the city becomes entangled in the disappearance of a young woman who lives on the same street as her ex-husband and his new family. Based on the 2015 novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins. Universal Pictures; 2016; Rated R; 112 minutes.
The Girl Effect: Since the British novel was first published, The Girl on the Train has been compared and contrasted with Gone Girl every step of the way. However, apart from the word “girl” in the title along with the steadily increasing popularity of the concept of the unreliable female narrator, the two stories have little in common. Although it feels unfair to judge The Girl on the Train by the standards of its predecessor, the relation between the two books and films has been shoved in audiences faces too many times to ignore. After all, modern female crime writers have admitted that publishing companies are encouraging them to add this key word to the title of their books to spark comparisons as a marketing strategy.
Good Girl Bad Girl: The only element of these two films the warrant comparison is the focus on the unreliable, unlikable narrator. The Girl on the Train takes this concept and pushes its limits even further, telling the majority of the story from the point of view of a woman who frequently blacks out from alcohol consumption. Unlike Gone Girl’s Amy, who reveals herself to be certifiably and unsympathetically diabolical, Rachel, played by Emily Blunt, is much more sympathetic. Both Blunt and director Tate Taylor deserve commendation for the disturbingly accurate depiction of a person suffering from the disease of alcoholism. The blackouts, the shakes, the struggle with both the absence of and overwhelming amount of guilt…all of these elements make Rachel an undeniably human character, making the first half of the film more of a study of human struggle than a suburban murder mystery.
Going, Going, Gone Girl: Once the crime of the missing woman is introduced, The Girl on the Train begins to run itself off the rails. With a first half that trudges along at almost a painfully glacial pace, setting the stage for a woman who is stumbling vodka bottle first through life, the second act of the film kicks off a high speed sprint to the finish line beginning with Megan Hipwell’s disappearance. Why does a movie that shows so much patience in the beginning suddenly become so frantic to wrap up its missing persons case?
Girls Gone Wild: A glaring hiccup of the frenzy to bring all of the puzzle pieces together includes introducing each of the three leading women as having little value to the story other than their obsession with a man who ultimately leads to their complete downfall. Why is a female writer choosing to create characters that are so weak and reliant on one singular man? Combine the lack of depth these women are provided on screen by Tate Taylor, and the result is a film written and based on a novel by a female author that does little for women but overtly sexualize and dumb them down.
One of the most psychologically disturbing scenes of the film involves a woman who inadvertently falls asleep with her baby in the bath tub. Instead of focusing on the devastation of the aftermath, the audience witnesses the woman standing in the yard of her house, naked, the camera pausing on a shot of her bare ass as she screams in horror over what she’s done. This severely gross misstep encompasses the flaws that run rampant throughout The Girl on the Train.
Overall: The Girl on the Train spends so much time on shock value, it neglects the aspects of fluid, substantial storytelling.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures