FILM REVIEW – THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. With Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Alison Janney. Written by Erin Cressida Wilson. Directed by Tate Taylor. Rated R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity. 112 minutes.
From its patronizing title to its incoherent storytelling, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is one of the least satisfying thrillers in some time. It doesn’t even have the camp value of last year’s hilariously inept “The Boy Next Door.” Based on the best seller by Paula Hawkins, something may have gotten lost in the translation to the big screen.
It takes nearly a third of the film’s running time just to set up the story. Rachel (Emily Blunt) rides the train back and forth between Manhattan and suburban Westchester for no apparent reason. She likes to look out the window at her old house where her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) live with their baby girl. Their nanny, Megan (Haley Bennett) lives a few doors down. Megan disappears on a night when a drunken Rachel has woken up covered in blood and not sure what she’s done the last few hours. Rachel pretends to have been Megan’s friend so she can tell her husband Scott (Luke Evans) that she saw Megan from the train embracing a man who turns out to be her psychiatrist (Edgar Ramírez).
If all of that is confusing, the filmmakers make it as difficult as possible to follow. The actresses playing Anna and Megan look so similar that it may not be clear early on who’s cheating on who. Then there’s a structure that keep jumping back to different points in time and then back to the present so that the timeline isn’t always clear. Even worse, none of these characters–and we can add the police detective (Alison Janney) assigned to the case–is the least bit sympathetic. Rachel, in particular, is a self-destructive alcoholic who once entered her old house and walked out with the baby of her ex and his new wife. When we learn that her memories of events may be false, it doesn’t erase this particularly deranged incident.
Director Tate Taylor then follows the unusual strategy of using lots of close-ups, so that we’re constantly in the faces of these characters. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help us understand them or sympathize with any of them. The best that can be said is that the men run the spectrum of abusive behavior while the women all share at least some culpability for their various degrees of victimhood. That’s not to say they deserve what happens to them, but all of them make bad choices for which they have only themselves to blame. When we get to the big reveal and climax, it’s less than satisfying except in that it signals that the movie is nearing the end.
Finally, while they chose to retain the title of the novel, often done when a book is well known, one has to ask why a character in her 30s (Blunt is 33) is “The Girl on the Train.” Adult men are sometimes referred to “boys” as in “boy’s night out,” and there’s nothing wrong with that slangy use of “girls” to refer to women. However, that’s not the case here, where even Rachel refers to herself as a “girl” (and not ironically). The movie is ample proof that it’s time for all involved to grow up.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.