October 06, 2016

The Girl on the Train

Grade: C +
Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Édgar Ramírez and Lisa Kudrow
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.

What begins as a promising psychological character study unravels into a loopy Lifetime movie in The Girl on the Train, which owes more to Douglas Sirk than Alfred Hitchcock. Based on the best-selling page turner by Paula Hawkins, this loco locomotive lurches out of the station, fueled by the needless narration and woozy booziness of Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), a patently troubled woman who sucks on her sports bottle full of vodka and rides the train in and out of Manhattan every day, bound for nowhere except her own post-marital malaise.

Rachel spends the relevant part of her commute gazing at and envying the seeming bliss of a comely lass named Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans), who live just two doors down from Watson’s former home, now occupied by her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who began their affair around the same time Rachel discovered she couldn’t have a child and apparently sunk deeper into despair and alcoholism.

Megan also happens to be Tom and Anna’s nanny, a thorny fact when Megan goes Gone Girl the same night Rachel drunkenly follows her through the park, then blacks out and awakens the next morning covered in blood. Rachel’s a person of interest since she’s spent the better part of a year constantly drunk dialing Tom, plus accosting Anna and her child in the street—restraining orders apparently do not exist in this movie universe. Further complicating matters, Rachel spied Megan canoodling a strange man on her patio prior to her disappearance, allowing Rachel to parlay her obsession into a reason to visit and share this with Scott, who soon also finds himself in the investigative crosshairs.

The Girl on the Train is a Blunt vehicle, and the actress makes mixed use of her copious screen time. Once the plotline kinda settles in, and Rachel visits an AA meeting, Blunt finally unveils a more complete character suffocating from crippling sadness. But the plot puzzle is figuring out where Rachel’s madness ends and her justifiable suspicions begin. Director Tate Taylor (the considerably less byzantine Get On Up and The Help) deploys his favored device of flashbacks/forwards to gradual layer the mystery, including the role of Megan’s shrink Dr. Kamal Abdic (Édgar Ramírez), Megan’s own tortured past and Scott’s furtive motives.

“You’re just a sad liar with no life,” Scott tells Rachel, and that’s the dreary thrust of the film for 90 minutes or so, until it’s time for the Big Reveal™. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say the denouement unfurls about the time Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson decide it’s time to wrap things up. The ending arises inorganically, and essentially renders irrelevant, if not moot, everything that came before. A glossy, but convoluted story about crazy women becomes a superficial story about awful men in The Girl on the Train, where it’s the audience who feels taken for a ride.

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