The Girl on the Train was one of those mediocre, plot driven sensations, like, say, The DaVinci Code or Gone Girl, that hits the bookshelves every few years; the kind that flies off the shelves faster than sellers can keep them in stock in a way that demands the attention of Hollywood. Hollywood then does its part, turning mediocre page turners into mediocre movies that somehow make all of the money while being, at the same time, entirely forgettable.
It’s an endless cycle of artlessness out of which we won’t soon find our way. So it is with the cinematic adaptation of The Girl on the Train, which feels every bit as tedious and humdrum as an endless commute on a cloudy day. Worse than that, even. As much as riding mass transit in a storm is awful, at least there’s a point. At least you get somewhere. The Girl on the Train, however, goes nowhere. At least, not anywhere worth going to.
Like the book that spawned it, The Girl on the Train follows story of three women, Rachel (Emily Blunt), Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and Megan (Haley Bennett) who are all connected to Tom (Justin Theroux). Rachel, an alcoholic whose life is going nowhere, is the ex-wife of Tom, who’s now married to Anna. Her morning commute on the train takes her right past the old neighborhood where she used to live with Tom, and where he now lives with Anna. That’s when Rachel first notices Megan who, unbeknownst to Rachel, is Tom and Anna’s nanny. Rachel constructs an imaginary world surrounding Megan, whose name Rachel doesn’t even know having only seen her from the train, and when Megan goes missing, Rachel becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her.
Conceptually, that sounds not entirely unlike any number of Hitchcock conceived premises. It’s filled with potential, but Hitchcock it ain’t. Director Tate Taylor (Get on Up) feels remarkably out of his depth, and any tension that might be found within the narrative is strangled by his heavy hand. Equally problematic is the script from Erin Cressida Wilson (Men, Women, & Children; Secretary) which plods along in fits and starts, failing to gain the kind of momentum necessary to craft a truly taut thriller.
That’s a shame because the cast is so good, especially its trio of females. Blunt, especially, has more than a few moments of greatness, and often seems to fully embody the character of the troubled Rachel by bringing a clear vulnerability to the role. In addition to being a full-blown, barely functioning alcoholic, Rachel has become obsessed with her ex and his new life with his new wife, calling them at all hours, numerous times a day; showing up at their house. In fact, this leads the police investigating Megan’s disappearance to suspect Rachel of foul play.
This quickly becomes the crux of the narrative—did Rachel do it? It’s certainly possible. She’s so drunk and unhinged that it’s just as likely as any other theory. We’re given plenty of reason to believe she did it, but none of them feel entirely plausible. The twists and turns of the narrative—key to the construction of any decent thriller—are so obviously telegraphed that any sense of shock or suspense is ruined in the process.
What I will say is that the depictions of various mental illnesses—alcoholism, depression, narcissism—are handled well enough, and the reality of abusive relationships—the gaslighting, the turmoil—are treated respectably. Still, even with this and some powerful performances, this train never reaches any real emotional stations. The narrative is too rote, the plot too predictable, and the characters too familiar to achieve anything of any particular memorability or worth. This feels like the kind of story better experienced in the pages of a book than by the glow of the screen.
The Girl on the Train is now playing in theaters everywhere.