Before writing this review I reread my book review of Paula Hawkins’ book because it’s been a while since I read it. If anything I’d forgotten just how much I disliked the book. It was a badly crafted crime thriller with underwhelming characters. It has been universally praised for it’s realistic portrayal of the alcoholic Rachel but it just felt so fucking familiar. I’m bored of self-destructive female narrators who have turned to drink after their family life starts to fall apart. It’s an easy way to create dramatic tension but it’s also a really dull and overused one. All I crave is a psychological drama where the female lead is a dick for reasons beyond men and children. So, I wasn’t exactly desperate to watch the film but I have a real love for Emily Blunt. She’s a great actor and I was always hopeful she could save this from being the same travesty that the novel was. Even if she is far too beautiful to successfully play the dowdy and unattractive Megan. I guess that’s just Hollywood for you. And I certainly didn’t care about the changes that the book fans have been crying about. London. New York. What does it fucking matter? It’s still a shitty thriller wherever it’s set.
The Girl on the Train was the incredibly successful psychological thriller that readers lapped up back in 2015. The film rights were acquired way back in 2014 as the book that was being touted as the “new Gone Girl” was believed to be a surefire hit. The film follows the narrative of Paula Hawkin’s fairly faithfully apart from a few minor changes. The most obvious being the change of setting from London to New York. None of these changes really affect the narrative so we still open during the commute of divorcee Rachel (Emily Blunt). Still depressed from the break-up of her marriage and being in the downward spiral of alcohol addiction, Rachel has little to celebrate. Her only glimmer of hope comes from the glimpses she gets of a mysterious couple she views from her train compartment. The seemingly perfect life of Megan (Hayley Bennett) and Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans) gives her a daily look into true love. Well, until she sees Megan in an embrace with another man. When Megan later goes missing Rachel begins investigating, sure that she holds the key to her disappearance.
The Girl on the Train takes it structure from the novel it is based on. The narrative keeps jumping back in time and between the perspectives of the three women at the heart of its story. As Rachel investigates and attempts to remember her own movement’s the night Megan went missing we switch between Megan’s perspective pre-disappearance and the point of view of Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom’s (Justin Theroux), new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) as she cares for her young daughter. It’s an annoying device that really doesn’t add anything to the film. It just makes everything unnecessarily confusing and drags out the inevitable that little bit longer. It’s just not handled very well and I could really have done without the constant shifts.
After all, it is Emily Blunt and Rachel who really carry this film. Without her great portrayal of the damaged Rachel The Girl on the Train would fully fall into the realms of over-the-top melodrama. Blunt’s performance is considered and she manages to bring more heart to the character than Hawkins ever could in the book. The film gives Rachel more time to reflect on herself without feeling like too much of a parody. In the film more than the book I almost started to sympathise with Rachel Although, one suspects that without Blunt’s involvement this would have been less likely.
Any potential for character development and intricate weaving of plot is avoided in favour of brash and trashy thriller. The actual plot, instead of focusing on the three women at its centre, focuses on a hollow and convoluted mystery that, when it comes down to it, really isn’t a mystery at all. It’s a film full of awful stereotypes and unrealistic characters. There are aspects that, given a bit of work, could have made this film much better but it all falls apart thanks to its own slow-paced narrative and increasing melodrama. Ultimately, you don’t really care about anyone in this film or care why they’re doing the things they do. Which, actually, is fine because it fails to offer any real resolution to anything. The final plot ‘twist’ is both incredibly obvious and completely nonsensical. It was dreamed up for the purposes of shock rather than good story telling. It’s an awful film that is only barely brought out of the depths thanks to Emily Blunt. I can’t imagine the kind of trash we’d have got if she hadn’t agreed to star in it.