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Girl on the Train, The (2016)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"She's Not Merrit Stone"
1 stars

Like “Gone Girl,” its most obvious literary predecessor, Paula Hawkins’ enormously thriller “The Girl on the Train” offered readers an increasingly convoluted and implausible storyline that was only partially redeemed by the fact that it was such a fast and effortless read that one didn’t have time to dwell on the various plot holes and loose ends until they had already completed it. The one key difference between the two is that when “Gone Girl” made its inevitable trip to the big screen, it was placed in the hands of one of the brilliant David Fincher and he presented the material with such style and confidence that the film transcended its dubious roots to such a degree that it became arguably the best film to come from a bad book since Clint Eastwood somehow managed to make “The Bridges of Madison County” into something palatable. In the case of “The Girl on the Train,” it has unaccountably been handed over to Tate Taylor, whose previous efforts—“The Help” and “Get On Up”—were not only bad in their own right but demonstrate none of the stylistic flair that would need to be employed to present Hawkins’ prose in cinematic terms. Granted, even Brian De Palma himself might have struggled with this particular material but Taylor makes such a thorough botch of it that those who have read it may be outraged with how it has been handled and those who haven’t read it before be completely baffled as to what its fan base could possibly see in it.

For those who somehow managed to avoid reading the book, the girl on the train is Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), a divorcee who takes the train into New York every day for work. Well, that is what she tells people but the truth is that she is a full-blown alcoholic who lost her job more than a year ago because of her drinking problem. The real reason that she takes the train every day is so that she keep an eye on two particular points of interest. One is the house where she used to live when she was married to Tom (Justin Theroux), who now resides there with new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their infant daughter. During their marriage, Rachel, who hit the bottle after the failure of her fertility treatments, began acting out in horrible ways that she would then conveniently forget after blacking out and this was what led to her split with Tom (well, that and his affair with Anna). Since the divorce, Rachel has been bothering Tom and Anna—constantly calling and texting, lurking about outside and even one time sneaking into the home and picking up the baby while Anna was asleep on the couch. The other is a house a couple of doors down inhabited by young and seemingly happy couple Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett). As for the other couple, she projects her romantic dreams regarding their happiness on them as she passes by on the train every day.

That abruptly changes one day when Rachel sees Megan on her back deck embracing a man who is definitely not Scott and goes berserk at the sight. The next morning, she wakes up with no memory of the previous evening, blood on her hands and clothes and the news that Megan has gone missing. Rachel is convinced that the mysterious other man had something to do with Megan’s disappearance but to the cynical Detective Riley (Allison Janney), she looks more like a suspect than a witness. Unable to get the police to believe her, Rachel begins to dig around for information herself but does it in such a way that both Megan’ hunky shrink (Edgar Ramirez) and Scott find themselves being accused of being involved with the disappearance. Nevertheless, she presses on while trying for once to stop guzzling vodka by the gallon and winds up making a number of shocking discoveries, not just about Megan and her whereabouts, but what she herself may or may not have done on that fateful night of the disappearance.

In bringing the book to the screen, Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson have largely stuck to what was on the page—the key change has been to transplant the action from England to New York, though this move is then largely under by having two of the major roles played by a Brit and a Swede. This may please fans of the novel but it means that all of the problems inherent to the book have been brought over as well. The story is a mess that tries to bring together three separate narrative lines while deploying a complex structure that weaves flashbacks in and out of the narrative. Now a skilled filmmaker might have the ability to juggle all of these balls in the air—Fincher managed to handle a similarly convoluted narrative in “Gone Girl” without much of a problem—but the screenplay quickly devolves into a mass of contrivance and sloppy plotting and Taylor simply doesn’t have the directorial chops to overcome those hiccups. In the book, for example, the way in which the train continually manages to slow down outside of Rachel’s old neighborhood just enough so that she notice odd goings-on with Megan and her former husband and the wife that replaced her was kind of silly but it was the kind of contrivance that one can easily ignore while zipping through the book. However, actually seeing it depicted several times throughout the film is silly enough the first time it is shown and becomes increasingly ludicrous with each subsequent deployment. Then there is the moment when we see Megan rutting in the woods with someone whose identity we cannot discern because of the way it was shot. In the book, such a moment is easily handled by simply withholding a description and leaving it at that but Taylor goes such lengths to avoid identifying the other person that a.) it inspires one of many bad laughs to be had here and b.) it all but tells you who the killer is, at least for those who haven’t already long figured it out.

A more problematic carryover from the book to the screen is the highly dubious sexual politics on display throughout. Although I would rather eat glass than participate in a book club discussion of this particular tome, it can theoretically be read as a quasi-feminist tome that illustrates how women can have their seemingly perfect lives manipulated in ways big and small by the men in their lives and how they need to band together and assert themselves instead of merely sniping at each other from the cover of their manicured lawns and well-appointed homes. Fine, except the three main female characters here are hardly anyone’s idea of exemplars of the feminist agenda—Rachel is a drunken, self-pitying mess whose attempts to finally assert herself by trying to solve Megan’s disappearance on her own only wind up with several other people, herself included, becoming prime suspects as a result of her bungling, Megan is an outwardly strong but inwardly weak creature who appears to be perfectly willing to sleep with anyone in her zip code with the sole exception of her husband and Anna is a terrible wife and mother who fondly recalls the days when she was the other woman causing the end of Rachel’s marriage and complaining that she simply doesn’t have the time or energy to take care of her own child because, and I quote, she is just too damn exhausted from shopping at the farmer’s market. Oh, and those who were annoyed by Taylor’s reticence to fully grapple with the issues of domestic abuse in “The Help” and “Get On Up,” presumably in an effort to secure a PG-13 rating, will be pleased to know that all the women in this film undergo plenty of physical and emotional abuse from the men in their life so as to further underline the premise that all men are either overtly monstrous or are just waiting to turn cruel and violent at the drop of a hat—not that he is actually prepared to deal with the subject as anything more than a cheap plot device. Face it, if a man had written this stuff, it would have been derided as retrograde sexist garbage. In truth, women wrote both the original book and the screenplay and it is still retrograde sexist garbage.

Too silly to be taken seriously and too dull to work as the kind of lurid camp that it might have become in the right hands, “The Girl on the Train” is a poorly conceived and executed grab bag of cliches that contains not a single interesting visual moment and which utterly wastes the talents of its lead actresses—Blunt has never been less interesting than she is here, Ferguson demonstrates none of the fire that electrified audiences when she turned up in the last “Mission: Impossible” film and made everyone say “Who is that?” and current It Girl Williams seems to have been cast solely for her vague resemblance to “Gone Girl” star Rosamund Pike. The only person in the cast who comes off well is Allison Janney as the cop in charge of the case and that is because when you listen to her character pointing out all the elements of the case that simply do not make any sense, it almost sounds as if Janney herself is pointing out the very same problems in the screenplay. Of course, the film will no doubt do well at the box-office thanks to its huge fan base but it is doubtful that many of them will come away from it truly satisfied. Face it, Taylor’s may have offered viewers the sight of a meanie ingesting a pie containing an especially foul filling in “The Help” but with “The Girl on the Train,” the viewers are the one who are being asked to swallow a lot of shit this time.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=29854&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/07/16 09:12:27
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User Comments

8/26/18 Tony Brubaker Everyone involved in the making of this film should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. 1 stars
3/06/17 Luisa Seductive with lots of twists, I liked it! 4 stars
2/12/17 morris campbell average rewatch gone girl instead 2 stars
1/06/17 Langano Just okay. 3 stars
11/10/16 Angel Baby Araiza So many twist and turns loved it 4 stars
10/26/16 Bob Dog Very average mystery, I was expecting more. 3 stars
10/18/16 Peter Sobczynski DONT WE ALL ! ! !. 5 stars
10/07/16 teddy crescendo I want to sodomize Emily Blunt. 5 stars
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  07-Oct-2016 (R)
  DVD: 17-Jan-2017


  DVD: 17-Jan-2017

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