Smart, suspenseful crime thrillers are fantastic, but there’s also something to be said for fun, eccentric murder mysteries. The big screen rendition of Paula Hawkins’ novel The Girl on the Train, however, falls right in an awkward middle.
The movie opens on Emily Blunt as Rachel, an unhinged divorcee with a serious drinking problem. She takes the train to and from Manhattan each day, giving her the chance to fixate on the same house every single trip she takes and fantasize about the occupants. From the train, Megan and Scott Hipwell (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans) appear to be the perfect couple, but when Rachel comes to discover that that’s not the case at all, she becomes consumed by the dangerous ramifications of Megan’s infidelity.
The Girl on the Train is definitely Blunt’s movie, but both Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson portray complex characters with meaningful arcs that, for the most part, stand on their own while supporting Rachel’s journey. Ferguson steps in as Anna, the woman who stole it all from Rachel – her husband (Justine Theroux) and the chance to live happily ever after in a humble abode that’s only a few houses down from the Hipwell home. Anna may come across as a bland, familiar housewife, but the contrast between her circumstances and Rachel’s winds up intensifying the situation and paving the way towards a particularly satisfying conclusion.
Bennett, on the other hand, makes a much stronger impression right off the bat simply because Megan’s got the more striking personality and is willing to make risky decisions, qualities that are further enhanced by an actress as captivating as Bennett. Megan is underwritten, particularly when it comes to her motivations, but Bennett gives such a committed performance that it’s only natural to believe her story.
Blunt delivers big as well, which is vital because Girl on the Train wouldn’t stand a chance without a lead who’s capable of embodying a character who can keep you invested but is also extremely unbalanced and borderline despicable. One of the movie’s most glaring flaws is that it fails to get you rooting for Rachel early on, but thanks to Blunt’s unwavering work and some very appropriate visual choices from Taylor, the movie still successfully conveys what Rachel is experiencing. Pair that degree of immersion with the intrigue of the narrative, and you wind up with a pretty powerful need to know what’s going to happen.
As far as surface level entertainment goes, The Girl on the Train succeeds, but there are too many loose ends and too much melodrama for it to amount to much more – or even to be taken seriously. For example, at one point we meet Laura Prepon’s character Cathy, a friend of Rachel’s who’s kind enough to let her crash at her place until she can get back on her feet. Eventually, Cathy’s had enough and gives Rachel the boot. However, soon thereafter, Rachel is still at Cathy’s place yet Cathy is nowhere to be found and we never see her again for the rest the film. Cathy is a minimal part of the movie and her absence doesn’t detract from the main mystery, but her exit makes no sense and she does function as a levelheaded anchor for the audience so it’s noticeably unfortunate to lose her insight in such an abrupt and sloppy manner.
The Girl on the Train also has a rather severe problem with melodrama and unintentionally laughable moments. This is a serious story about a woman who’s losing her life and sanity to jealousy and alcoholism. You can’t have a scene where your main character nearly becomes a child abductor end with a crowd giggle. The film runs into a number of similar situations with Allison Janney’s cartoonish, tough as nails Detective Riley and Theroux’s performance as Tom, both of which might have something to do with poor casting rather than poor performances.
I prefer to avoid assessing a movie by comparing it to others, but many are pointing a finger at Girl on the Train for being a Gone Girl wannabe, and it’s an impossible claim to ignore because it’s so glaringly obvious. The themes, the tone, the visual style and more are very reminiscent of the 2014 release, and Taylor comes up short in every single category. Girl on the Train features a very delicate mystery that relies on shocking behavior and complicated personal circumstances. Taylor needed to knock it all out of the park in order to deliver a winning adaptation. Even the slightest misstep is going to be magnified in this type of film and threaten the credibility of the narrative, and unfortunately that is what happens here.