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The Girl on the Train (2016)

October 7, 2016

girl-on-the-train-glamour-19july16-pr-bMemory is faulty. Despite this truth, humanity relies heavily on it to validate our experiences. We place too much power on the memory of ourselves and others as if our brains are a steel trap capable of cementing a detailed moment for life. We put people in prison based on often times fraudulent memories that are easily distorted the moment the we take them in. Simply finding your car in a parking garage is an ordeal for many when you know for a fact where you parked. Science has reminded us time and again that we shouldn’t rely on our memories, and yet as a society we forget this lesson and continuously do so. The Girl on a Train capitalizes on this aspect by toying with the notion of memory in clever ways to explore how an unstable, alcoholic must unwittingly rely on her memory to prove her innocence in the murder of a woman she has become obsessed with.

Emily Blunt wades through heavy water works and one-off stares into space giving an impressively pitiful performance as Rachel, a motherless cuckquean wandering through life in an alcoholic stupor. Rachel is unable to deal with the loss of her family, more so how In Vitro Fertilization didn’t take and how happily her now ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), has settled in with his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their infant child. Adding insult to injury, the new couple lives in the home that Rachel and Tom once shared making for a mentally jarring train ride twice a day.

Rachel’s life is miserable. She manages to cope through an unhealthy habit of guzzling vodka masked in water bottles, after train martinis and ending her nights with a bottle of wine. This loopy existence only gives her enough mental awareness to make unannounced house calls to her ex and stare out the train window at what once was and what could be in Megan (Haley Bennett), the nanny and neighbor of Anna. Rachel develops a fantastical attachment to Megan and her obnoxiously sexy husband, Scott (Luke Evans). The couple gives Rachel hope for love, that is until she spots Megan locking lips with another man. This sends Rachel into a rage that gets stifled by a black-out, then ends with Megan’s mysterious disappearance.

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The Girl on a Train aims high at psychological thriller status desperate to entice and enthrall its viewers. It misses the mark by wallowing in monotony and poor character development for the sake of psyching viewers out. The Girl on a Train spends the majority of its run-time setting up the final “gotcha” moment instead of truly delving into the connection between the three female leads and their mental hang-ups. The narrative unfolds in broken pieces that coldly bounces between characters and in between time, but surprisingly much of the film feels stagnant never quite getting to its point until the film’s 3rd act.

The meat of the story is thrown to Rachel which benefits Blunt, but leaves scrapes for other characters to gnaw on— although Ferguson gets a chance to exercise her acting chops for a smidgen of the film. Screenplay writer Erin Cressida Wilson adapts her script from Paula Hawkins’ acclaimed novel of the same name. Nevertheless, Wilson presents moviegoers with a cast of unlikable characters whose redemption’s are either never given, (for instance the psychiatrist who for some reason puts his practice and life’s work in jeopardy in order to sleep with a damaged patient or the sad and questionable Scott) or only granted asylum at the end, by which point there are so many loose ends to grasp at that you don’t care about the individuals anymore.

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It was hard to sympathize with the people we follow based on the fragmented bits of them we see through director Tate Taylor’s vision. They are either annoying, rude, disrespectful or just plain unlikable. The mysterious mood needed to make The Girl on a Train thrilling and captivating is lost in part because of the oddly bright high-key lighting and Danny Elfman’s upbeat, melodramatic score. Admittedly so, the screenplay’s ability to test the moral compass of characters is intriguing as it slightly explores the complexities of human nature.

I admire The Girl on a Train for its heavy emphasis on emotional and mental abuse experienced by women at the hands of people who are manipulative and more socially powerful that they are. The Girl on a Train is more about reconciling social gas-lighting and how quickly we vilify members of society who have fallen by the wayside due to substance abuse. How an individual copes with pain through alcohol and sex are themes slightly touched upon but not fully unpacked to my disappointment. Instead, its time is wasted on giving Blunt room to weep and sulk so that we can all cheer when she regains strength. For some this is effective, for others it’s grossly expected and largely disappointing.

AVOID IT. I’m sure the book is much better as diving into this topic and story.

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