After her inability to conceive led Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) to the bottle and the end of her marriage to Tom (Justin Theroux, HBO's 'The Leftovers'), she builds a fantasy around a couple she spies living a couple doors down from her prior home. She glimpses them in their backyard on her commute to and from Manhattan which she continues despite having lost her job months ago. One day she sees something that shatters her dreamworld and when that woman, Megan (Haley Bennet, "The Magnificent Seven"), goes missing, she reports what she's seen to Detective Riley (Allison Janney, "The Help"). But Rachel's a blackout drunk and her obsession causes everyone to doubt the word of "The Girl on the Train."
Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson ("Men, Women & Children") adaptation of Paula Hawkin's overwrought novel turns it into a triptych of women's suffering at the hands of men, a different approach but one that adds nothing to the discussion of domestic violence. It's a wallow in bad male behavior and the women broken by it, capped with a ludicrous climax. Director Tate Taylor ("The Help," "Get On Up") follows three story lines (two moving forward, one in flashback) in such fragmented fashion one might think he's attempting to serve up our experience through the eyes of its sloshed protagonist, but nothing about his style justifies this theory. Star Emily Blunt gives it her all, hurt, woozy and hysterical, but it's not enough to keep this train on the tracks.
The action's been moved to Ardsley on the Hudson, a shame because one of the best things in Hawkin's novel was its sense of place in a London suburb where Rachel's house had the same layout as Megan's (here Rachel tells us she lived 'two doors down' from 15 Beckett Road at number 13, apparently the only road in the country that features both odd and even numbered addresses on the same side of the street). We meet Rachel on the train as she tells us how she wishes she were the woman who parades in her underwear in full view of commuters or snuggles with husband Scott (Luke Evans, "Dracula Untold") next to a backyard firepit. Rachel's always sipping from her vodka-filled water bottle, so when she spies Megan kissing another man, she reacts almost violently, getting off the train at her old stop. But although she remembers spying Megan in an underpass, she cannot remember what happened until she came too, bruised and bloodied.
Too soon, we're introduced to Megan (six months earlier) who is unloading her troubles to her therapist (Edgar Ramirez, "Hands of Stone"), clearly in an unhappy marriage, distraught over her husband's desire for a child. Tom's new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson, "Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation") is devoted to her baby, Evie, and upset by the constant stream of phone calls Tom still receives from Rachel. As Megan's story progresses from the past, we learn she was Evie's nanny, but quit suddenly, leaving Anna in a snit.
Rachel begins to try and dry out, attending AA meetings, but Detective Reilly's background knowledge of her drunk and stalkerish ways unsettles her. She 'tries to help' by visiting Scott to tell him what she saw and he shows her a picture of Megan's therapist. She confirms he is the man and makes an appointment with Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez, "Hands of Stone," the only sympathetic male character here, although one pushed to the edge of impropriety by the script's melodramatic demands). Rachel's amateur meddling soon has Scott, Dr. Abdic and herself under suspicion and Scott's none too pleased when he finds out Rachel isn't a 'friend of Megan's' but Tom's 'crazy ex.'
Taylor's sense of style here is limited to frequent overhead shots of the train, blurry imagery indicating Rachel's fogged memory and insert shots of past and future events yet to be explained. Blunt is the film's biggest asset by far (watch her try to engage with a young mother on the train), but Jennifer Lawrence lookalike Bennet has strong moments bringing a maniacally written character to life as well. The film also stars 'Orange Is the New Black's' Laura Prepon in the dramatically reduced character of Rachel's roommate Cathy and Lisa Kudrow as Tom's ex boss's wife Martha.
"The Girl on the Train" is a movie run amok when its source material needed a good reining in. At least by its conclusion we know Rachel willll be alright. Her mascara's no longer smudged.
Robin did not see this film.
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