For better and worse, The Girl on the Train will always be tied to Gone Girl. Paula Hawkins’s debut novel was almost immediately anointed “this year’s Gone Girl.” To this day, The Girl on The Train is still compared – unfavorably – to Gone Girl. Such was the case for the book, and now is the case for the film.
The Girl on the Train is no Gone Girl. Never was. Train isn’t even in the same league. Except for both having the word “girl” in their titles, there’s nothing similar about the stories. Gone Girl is a fascinating look at a failed marriage and the lengths a sociopath will go to make her spouse pay for his wrongdoings. The Girl on the Train is about Rachel, an alcoholic, hot mess of a woman who becomes obsessed with the disappearance of her ex-husband’s neighbor.
Rachel (Emily Blunt) takes the train into Manhattan every morning, passing by her old home – now inhabited by her ex Tom (Justin Theroux) and his mistress-turned-wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) – drinking her pain and sorrow away. Rachel watches Tom’s neighbor Megan (Haley Bennett), imagining her to have the perfect life. One night, in an alcohol-fueled rage, Rachel goes to confront Megan over a possible infidelity. Rachel wakes up the next morning with cuts and dried blood on her, unable to remember anything from the previous night … which also happens to be the night Rachel disappeared.
Dun dun dunnn!
The Girl on the Train will appeal to the novel’s fans, but it won’t win over many newcomers. With the exception of moving the action from England to New York, screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson stays very close to Train‘s source material. The film, like the novel, zips back and forth in time while the three main female points-of-view (Rachel, Anna and Megan) narrate via voice-over. That worked on the page, because Train is more psychological than anything else, but on screen, with the internal neuroses of the characters minimized, the thin plot is exposed for all to see. Parts of Train feel downright boring.
That plot left a lot of room for exploration, or in the hands of Director Tate Taylor, juicy monologues for the cast, especially a never-better Blunt. Taylor, who helmed the adaptation of another best-seller with The Help, frames the entire film in medium close-ups. It gives the actors a little freedom, but strangles any chance of visual panache.
It’s hard not to imagine what someone like Stanley Kubrick would’ve done with The Girl on the Train. An auteur like him would’ve eaten up all of the jealousy, confusion and sexual frustration the novel had to offer. It happened with Gone Girl, where David Fincher crafted a cynical, modern-day take on marriage. Instead, The Girl on the Train tiptoes around, too frightened to anger the novel’s fans to do something more with the material.