Despite a nimble effort from the always-astonishing Emily Blunt, the movie adaptation of author Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train is a dizzying drama that’s as drunk as its titular character.
Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a damaged, divorced alcoholic who spends her days wasting away on the city train, sipping on vodka and observing the lives of homeowners who live by the train tracks. One residence has caught her attention in particular, that of Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett), a young couple that seems to have it all—the perfect home, a passionate relationship, and good looks that go well with afternoon fucks on their veranda. Obsessed with Scott and Megan, Rachel creates a storied reality about them in her head, using them as an escape from her own ennui. Two doors down from the couple of the year is Rachel’s old home, where her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) resides with his former mistress and new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Tom and Anna have a newborn baby to care for, a fact that dampens Rachel’s already-pathetic existence. But one dark and foggy night, Megan suddenly disappears, sending the lives of all these individuals crashing into each other when Rachel decides to investigate.
If this sounds like a handful of characters to deal with, it is. The movie version doesn’t stray far from the source material when it comes to the plot and mode of storytelling, which in this case, isn’t very effective. With the book, the reader is allowed to marinate in the details as the point of view and timeline shifts from one female character to the next, building tension as each chapter closes. The movie, however, is edited in such a way that the audience could be left confused. With three women to follow and timelines jumping from the past to the present, it’s like being treated to a thriller that’s just been dipped in a barrel of booze. The irony of it all is that, for a whodunit, the lack of suspense is very sobering.
There are strong individual performances from the female players. Emily Blunt feels too sophisticated for the material, her drunken monologues more fit for Oscar bait than (what was supposed to be) a salacious mystery. Newcomer (and J-Law lookalike) Haley Bennett is spellbinding in her naiveté—a talent who will only get better if given the proper roles. And Rebecca Ferguson, who blew everyone away as a femme fatale in the last Mission Impossible flick, is surprisingly convincing as a dowdy, domesticated mother.
Despite the pool of talent available to the filmmakers, however, The Girl on the Train is pretty mediocre. It’s not bad. It’s not great. It plays with obvious themes like murder, betrayal, and domestic violence that are native to the genre. There’s an interesting commentary on the capabilities of a woman on the verge lingering between all the melodramatic moments. Sadly, it never really comes to full fruition because of the heady way in which the story unfolds.
The Girl on the Train is now showing in theaters nationwide.