The hope was “The Girl on the Train” would be this year’s version of “Gone Girl” — a lurid and occasionally credulity-defying but immensely entertaining and satisfying thriller based on a best-selling page-turner.
Not even in the same bloody ballpark.
Tate Taylor’s adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ compulsively readable psychological murder mystery fails to match David Fincher’s interpretation of the Gillian Flynn thriller on every level.
It’s shiny trash that begins with promise but quickly gets tripped up by its own screenplay and grows increasingly ludicrous and melodramatic, to the point where I was barely able to suppress a chuckle at some of the final scenes.
And this is no comedy.
Not that “The Girl on the Train” strays far from the source material (although the locale has been moved from the UK to New York state). But sometimes what works quite effectively on the printed and/or downloaded page has one rolling one’s eyes at the stupidity of a number of main characters and the convenient plot twists you should be able to see coming around the bend like a commuter train. (And I’ll bet that’ll be the case even for viewers that haven’t read the book.)
Emily Blunt gives a fine performance in a role that requires her to be inebriated, blackout drunk, reeling from a massive hangover, shedding tears, throwing a fit, engaging in obsessive stalking — or some combination of the aforementioned. It’s exhausting just watching her. “The Girl on the Train” could really use one of those Sleeper Cars.
Blunt’s Rachel is an emotionally scarred alcoholic in full free-fall some two years after her husband Tom (Justin Theroux) had an affair with their real estate agent, a beautiful young blonde named Anna (Rebecca Ferguson); dumped Rachel; married Anna; moved Anna into the home Rachel decorated — and had a baby with Anna.
So to sum up: bad couple of years for Rachel.
Every morning and every night, Rachel takes the train to and from the city, a train that zips by so close to Rachel’s former neighborhood, she can catch glimpses of her ex-husband and his new wife and their baby through the windows.
Rachel’s equally fixated on a house just a couple of doors down, where she sees ANOTHER beautiful young blonde, Megan (Haley Bennett), and her gorgeous hunk of a husband Scott (Luke Evans), who seem to be living the perfect life — reminding Rachel of her marriage to Tom before things went so sour.
By the way: Megan is Anna’s nanny.
In the immortal words of the Eagles in “Life in the Fast Lane,” are you with me so far?
The screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson flashes back six months, four months, two months, a few days ago, with intermittent stops in the present, and switches viewpoints from Rachel to Megan to Anna — though Rachel’s story remains firmly at the core of everything.
We learn one dark secret after another about each of the women, and the men in their lives, and how just about everyone is living some version of a lie and their lives are entangled in a sleazy pile of twisted, sometimes sadistic and eventually violent behavior.
Blunt’s Rachel is a complex, terribly sad, deeply troubled woman, ravaged by her disease, drowning due to her own actions, but fighting to the very end to get to the truth and to find salvation along the way.
Justin Theroux as Rachel’s ex, Luke Evans as Megan’s husband and Edgar Ramirez as one of the worst therapists in modern screen history — all fine actors, but they’re stuck playing characters with little nuance.
Haley Bennett’s Megan is a tragic character, and when we learn the full, horrific reason why, Bennett delivers with a stunning monologue. Rebecca Ferguson’s Anna is window dressing until it’s time for her to make some key decisions — and her actions are ridiculous. I’m not sure a young Meryl Streep could have made this role sing.
And then there’s Allison Janney’s detective, whose primary purpose seems to be to taunt Rachel and to violate so many basic rules of police investigation her superiors would be arresting HER by the end of this movie. It’s not a bad performance, but it’s a terrible, laughable role.
The same could be said for the big confrontation when All is Revealed — and the Epilogue, which tries to make some kind of female bonding statement about Rachel, Anna and Megan.
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Tate Taylor and written by Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the novel by Paula Hawkins. Rated R (for violence, sexual content, language and nudity). Running time: 112 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.