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‘The Girl On The Train’ (review)

girl-on-the-train-Produced by Marc Platt
Screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson
Based on The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins

Directed by Tate Taylor
Starring Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson,
Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans,
Allison Janney, Édgar Ramírez, Lisa Kudrow

There’s something darkly satisfying in imagining the still #1 bestselling The Girl On The Train is bringing heated debate amongst mostly female book clubs across America.  The twisty British suspense-thriller of the moment rides themes of voyeurism, envy, gender, and social status at a steady pace.

For the built-in book audience, I’m happy to say the film’s Americanized track change to New York’s Hudson Valley doesn’t derail the original story’s tone or intent.

In fact, the upper-middle class setting might hit all audiences over the head with its ugly truths.

Whereas Tate Taylor (Get on Up, The Help) does an unremarkable job directing the material (I would have loved to see De Palma play with this train set), Emily Blunt is perfectly cast as Rachel Watson.  Blunt gives an award-worthy performance.  On paper, it’s a strong character.  An alcoholic divorcee at rock-bottom with an unhealthy obsession over the life that keeps, literally, passing her by on her daily train ride. But Blunt takes Rachel to extremes physically and emotionally.  While you may not feel for this lead character as role-model, you’ll sympathize with her heartbreak.

But there are other women on board the thriller, and lead characters at that.  Megan (Haley Bennett) is one half of the “perfect couple” that Rachel admires from her commuter seat.  And Anna is the new wife of Rachel’s ex, who during a poorly-timed drunken blackout, might have something to do with the disappearance of Megan.

These three women on the surface (and there’s lots of surface) couldn’t have more different dilemmas, but all three share one ugly truth.  They don’t like the women they think they’re supposed to be, and a lot of that is driven by men who think they need to be a certain way themselves.

Take away the alcoholism, adultery and abuse, and the characters are still stuck in repeating suburban nightmares, watching their own lives pass by in a blur.  That’s the sick joke of this thriller, and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary) knows where to play it for laughs.  Anna needs Megan to nanny so that she has time to properly purée fresh carrots to raise her baby on.  Megan “doesn’t do” cleaning, and can’t wait to get home to wash the scent of baby off.  Additional ancillary women comment on bad food at homeless fundraisers (Lisa Kudrow in a particularly stonefaced role), while Allison Janney’s jaded Detective equally despises every one of these ladies.

The filmmakers were smart to focus on the self-pity and stress of gender expectations.  It’s what keeps the movie interesting.  Honestly I would have loved to see the satire pushed a little more (à la Gone Girl). Take away some of the more expository back-story plotting and it would have tunneled into a more mainstream movie-of-the-week.  Luckily, it earns its R rated, popcorn thriller expectations.

You could do worse in search of a vicarious thrill.

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