REVIEW – ‘Girl on the Train’ takes the slow chug into the station

It didn’t quite derail – but it wasn’t anything to celebrate, either.

I could say this film steals your soul and never gives it back (fans of the novel would argue the written version of this has already done that). Heck, I could say anything terrible about this movie – and yet, no one will give a hoot. I know the turnout for Girl on the Train is going to be insane this weekend.

But I need to get this off my chest, because, as we round the corner towards the end of 2016, those of us who are invested in scoping out the box office know time is running out to find those one or two solid mainstream films. Nothing has been a stand-out. (Yes, I’ve given perfect scores to some films, but I know of other films released in other years that were far better. Also – the animated category this year has been very strong, so at least there’s that).

As far as good movies go, The Girl on the Train is not one of them.

I will give credit where credit is due: the adaptation is a pretty solid take on the book (unlike some upcoming films – and don’t get me started), so if you’ve read the book, this will make sense to you. If you haven’t read the book, you’ll probably be able to follow along – albeit getting lost in some of the slower parts.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a divorcee who just can’t get it together. She’s an alcoholic, often trying to get in touch with her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux) all the time. She’s sometimes said to even threaten his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Each day, Rachel takes the train in to New York City; this train happens to conveniently go by her old home (which is the home Tom and Anna share together, along with their daughter, Evie), as well as the home of another young woman – Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett). When Hipwell goes missing, and Rachel finds out she was seen in the same area the night of Megan’s disappearance, things get a little wacky. And of course – Rachel has no idea what happened that night.

I first picked up the book a few months ago. I fell into the hype – it had a sort of Gone Girl quality to it. But after storming through it in about half a day, I asked myself, “how is this going to translate into film?” If we were going to go the route of the book, it would need to shift between a handful of characters and perspectives, which can make the storytelling too complex to digest visually. (Not that it was a book beforehand, but if you watch Vantage Point, starring Dennis Quaid, you’ll see what I mean.)

After watching The Girl on the Train last night, my theory was correct.

There’s this particular drawl used to tell the story in the novel. The story feels slow; dream-like – and it works for literature. Boy, do I feel sorry for the person who turned this into an adaptive screenplay, because you were kind of screwed. If you sped up the pacing, and diverted from the book, you wouldn’t be able to tell all the stories (you’d effectively have to nix certain parts, which I think would have been okay here – and they didn’t do that in this case). If you didn’t, then the audience would have to sit through what felt like hours of a build-up before the final scene of the film (and even that for me was anti-climactic). The person writing the adaptation went the latter route, which made for a very boring visual experience.

Which is such a shame, because Blunt is pretty good in the role of Rachel. I was concerned she wouldn’t fit the part. When I’d first heard she’d been cast, I raised an eyebrow – really raised an eyebrow. But even though she isn’t the sloppy, incredibly downtrodden woman described in the book (or, okay, a more polished version of said slob), the emotion she brought to the character was not half bad. And I do enjoy seeing her getting angry (I barely ever see her angry, and her angry acting is pretty good). Bennett’s Hipwell is not bad, either, but I would argue that the only person who had a challenge ahead of them in the acting category is Blunt. While everyone else was making use of the bedroom eyes, pouting lips, and far-off glances into the distance, Blunt was busy being vulnerable.

At the end of the day, this story – whether book or film – isn’t anything close to complex. Is it an opportunity to get away from reality, and say, “boy…I’m so glad my life isn’t like that?” Sure – and I think that’s part of what made the book work. It’s practically a Harlequin novel, just far more tragic and not so watered-down. Am I glad saw it? As someone who enjoyed the book, sure. As someone reviewing the film, I could have done without. If there’s one thing I’ve taken from this film, it’s how much I enjoyed the trailers – and the music in them. Yes, you are hearing a version of Kanye West’s “Heartless,” remixed by Blitz//Berlin – which is a band I’ve officially fallen in love with. So thanks, Universal.

Two-and-a-half expired train tickets out of five. See it on a cheapie Tuesday if you must.

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