The Girl on the Train
by Lisa Dib
Inevitably, if one has read a book and seen its cinematic adaptation, there is the natural inclination to compare and contrast. I couldn’t help do this myself, having devoured Paula Hawkins’ 2015 novel only a few days before seeing this film. But, I realised, even as a stand-alone film (if one were to ignore the book), The Girl On The Train fall short in a lot of places.
The Girl On The Train follows three different but interconnected characters’ perspectives, but mostly centres on Rachel (Emily Blunt); Rachel rides the train every day and, after a while, has noticed an idyllic-looking couple in a grandiose house who, she assumes, have the kind of perfect life she herself lost. Rachel is an alcoholic, divorced and miserable and makes up whole lives for these two beautiful people, who turn out to be Megan (played by Haley Bennett [The Magnificent Seven, Marley & Me] not Jennifer Lawrence as I thought for longer than I’d like to admit) and Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans, Clash of the Titans.)
Rachel becomes obsessed with the couple, who just happen to live a few doors down from Rachel’s ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux, Mulholland Drive), his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson, The White Queen) and their baby daughter. Rachel is not coping well, something that reaches a distressing climax on a night in which she is literally blackout drunk, waking up covered in blood, with many memories missing. Megan is missing and everyone is a suspect. Obviously the book is able to delve deeper into character motivations, backstories and thoughts than the film can, but it gives it a go. Weirdly, it doesn’t maintain the voice-over narration throughout, which might have given them a better chance of exploring some of the things it missed about the characters.
In order to properly showcase and explore the Rachel character, Anna and Megan fall a little to the wayside (Anna more so); Megan, for instance, is portrayed as more of that ‘crazy nympho’ trope than an emotionally complex character; Anna is Scott’s suspicious wife and that’s about it. It felt surprising that in an almost two-hour movie, we didn’t get to delve very deeply into those characters. There was also some odd camera and post-production effects that felt weird and cheap; moments of badly-rendered slow-motion at key points were quite distracting and made the film look like an early 90s music video.
For the most part, the film is well shot, exploring the space in which these characters live. Care was given to make the houses, for instance, very indicative of the kinds of life the characters live: Rachel’s bedroom, for instance, is dank and miserable; Scott and Megan’s home, and Tom and Anna’s, are big, gorgeous, light -filled and full of keepsakes and photographs - nice memories. Rachel doesn’t have many of those. The standout performance here is unquestionably Blunt. She had a tough slog going in: Rachel is an unreliable narrator, sometimes wholly unlikeable; she makes some alarming mistakes, does some very unwise things and thinks some very bad thoughts. She’s a human being, immensely suffering, and Blunt portrayed her rage, distress and desperation well.
Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help) and adapted for the screen by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary), The Girl on the Train is violent and gripping, but falls short of true thriller territory. The ‘twist’ is a little more obvious in the film, sadly, but it’s a good ride while it lasts.
The Girl on the Train is out now.