The Girl on the Train Fails to Live Up To Its Campy Potential

The first act of The Girl on the Train feels like a movie that could be embraced as a camp classic. It has a juicy premise: an alcoholic divorcee (Emily Blunt) investigates the missing girl case in which she has been implicated due to her creeping on her ex. For that first part of the movie, when Blunt really leans into the drunken hysterics of her character, sad-sack ersatz detective Rachel, the movie is thoroughly intriguing. Unfortunately, director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson, adapting the novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins, do not go big when Blunt does, and the results are disappointingly bland.

The Girl on the Train will undoubtedly be compared to David Fincher’s Gone Girl, itself a missing girl thriller based on a bestseller, and one of the major problems with Taylor’s film is it tries too hard to be Gone Girl when the material plays more like a Lifetime movie, and the combination of melodramatic heat with David Fincher coldness results in a lukewarm blend. Blunt is pretty terrific when she is staggering drunk and stalking her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), who left her for second wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), but once the mystery is underway and Rachel has taken it upon herself to discover the kidnapper (or perhaps…killer!) of one Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), the woman whose relationship with husband Scott (Luke Evans) Rachel likes to fantasize about while viewing them from the titular train, and who happens to have worked as a nanny for Anna and Tom, Rachel cleans up her act and is a lot less fun to watch. An impressive cast has been assembled for The Girl on the Train, with the aforementioned husbands and wives joined by Allison Janney’s detective and Edgar Ramirez’s, perhaps ethically compromised, therapist. Since, after the premise is introduced, the film devolves into a rote whodunit, it would be fun to see what these actors could do if they were allowed to go off the rails a bit.

While Blunt is certainly playing the main character here, attempts are made to split the narrative between Blunt, Bennett and Ferguson’s characters, giving them each some expository voice-over narration to explain their respective motivations. The voice-over serves no real purpose beyond acting as a narrative crutch for filmmakers who don’t trust the audience to catch on to the character arcs, and make the story seem more “literary.” The split perspective serves mostly to give the audience information to which Blunt’s investigator would never be privy. There’s not enough mystery to this mystery, and the twists, which should be thrilling are kind of a drag. The Girl on the Train was never going to be a prestige picture, but it could have been fun trash.

C+
The Girl on the Train (Universal)
Director: Tate Taylor
Screenwriter: Erin Cressida Wilson
Cinematographer: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Editor: Michael McCusker
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez, Lisa Kudrow
English/112 min./ R

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