The film adaptation of Paula Hawkins’s bestseller The Girl on the Train has attracted plenty of buzz, no least because the novel has been compared endlessly to the feministic whodunit Gone Girl. But the comparisons end there. David Fincher’s adaptation of the aforementioned film packed a sadistically twisty, darkly humorous punch. Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train, however? Well, it essentially fails at providing audiences with a similarly satisfying proverbial blow to the gut.
Emily Blunt’s Rachel, as described by her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux), is a ‘sad person’. A fall-down, blackout drunk who is no longer employed, she travels ‘to work’ every single day equipped with a drink bottle filled with vodka, in order to prevent her housemate from discovering that her life is drastically falling apart at the seams. As if she didn’t know already. On her daily faux-commute, Rachel fantasises about the seemingly perfect lives of an attractive couple that her train roars past. The couple’s home is conveniently located right next to Rachel’s old abode, currently occupied by ex-husband and Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), Tom’s ex-mistress and present wife, and the mother to his baby. When Rachel catches a glimpse of one half of her fantasy couple, Megan (Haley Bennett), passionately kissing someone who is not her husband, Rachel’s voyeuristic perception is shattered. Megan soon goes missing. Placed around the scene of Megan’s disappearance, Rachel is subsequently forced to confront the potential monster that her alcohol addiction has morphed her into.
The film has all the ingredients for an apt whodunit. There’s ample opportunity to throw into the mix a number of effective red herrings. Concealing the reason for Megan’s disappearance just enough so that the audience doesn’t solve the mystery right away would have been an achievable task. Yet Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson ultimately fail to deliver the execution of a rewarding third act. When all is revealed, nobody is really all that surprised, because people possessing even an average amount of intelligence could probably see where it’s heading. The way the mystery is revealed even seems campy at times. There were less gasps and more giggles flittering amongst my fellow moviegoers. Flipping The Girl on the Train’s narration style and point of view between Rachel, Megan and Anna certainly helps us reach into the minds and motivations of these women, and allows us to get a grasp of the various pressures that cause women to destroy themselves. But the film’s various flashbacks often seem unnecessary and self-aggrandising, since the mystery could be pieced together quite effortlessly.
The cast is stellar, especially the women. Admittedly, I had reservations about Blunt playing Rachel, whose book counterpart is overweight and plain-looking. But this is a film review, not a book review, and Emily Blunt manages to effectively portray a broken and yet desperately determined woman. Bennett also stands out, crafting a seemingly effortless performance of an outwardly free-spirited but achingly vulnerable young woman. Alison Janney also plays an exasperatingly suspicious detective to perfection. I won’t discount the men, either. In the wrong hands, their characters could have come off as one-dimensional macho men. But they manage to actually seem like real people; people who perhaps inspire sympathy at times.
All in all, The Girl on the Train was frustratingly disappointing. Whenever a film features a mystery at the centre of its plot, you’d hope that the solving of said mystery gratifies audiences. The journey of a mystery is equally as important as its reveal, yet the reveal’s payoff is crucial so that people don’t feel ripped off. The Girl on the Train’s journey was well done, yet its final reveal ensures that the near greatness of its first half doesn’t seem worth the disappointment of its final half.
The novel debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2015 list and remained in the top position for 15 weeks, 13 of them being consecutive. The book has sold more than 3 million copies in the U.S. alone, as of July 2015.