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It takes only around 15 minutes or so to recognize the reality at the center of The Girl on the Train. Regardless of the whodunit nature of the events beginning to unravel and dissolve onto the big screen, regardless of a few gorgeous women adorning the view in front of you, and regardless of at least one big Hollywood name in the cast, there’s something else going on with this film.
In short, what becomes Windex clear is that this is just not a very good movie. It’s also completely unmemorable and will fade away with a whimper.
As a matter of fact, it’s a bad movie. Or, at the very least, it’s an average film, which is a failure considering the plethora of previews and trailers we’ve all been watching since what seems like 2006.
The Girl on the Train is going to make solid money, and the promotion surrounding it has been extremely well done. Paula Hawkins’ novel debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List at number one and remained there for 13 weeks. If you happened to stumble into a brick and mortar bookstore in 2015, you ran into it almost immediately, even before you could figure out which direction the coffee was located. In similar fashion to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and E.L. James’ Fifty Shades trilogy, it captured the attention of women who like to read fiction, and occasionally their husbands and boyfriends would end up perusing the material as well.
Watching Tate Taylor’s adaptation, it does seem apparent that there’s a good story inside the novel, but it just didn’t translate effectively to the big screen. The problems start immediately, as we meet the three main characters of the story, Rachel Watson, Megan Hipwell, and Anna Watson. We get to know them through voiceovers, and almost all of this content is painfully uninteresting. It’s wooden, particularly Hipwell’s character, who despite a self-determination that she’s a whore, somehow finds a way to take Haley Bennett and turn her into a hickory door.
It’s just plain boring, and at this point, you want the movie to hook you. Based on the trailers, even if you had no knowledge of the book, what you know with certainty is this is a screwed up story, reliant on twists and douchebag characters making terrible decisions in a selfish manner. While those things do exist, none of them are entirely well displayed or structured. The first hour feels more like three, which is the exact opposite effect you want to create in an entertainment setting. I looked at my watch, assuming the movie was nearing its end, and it was nowhere close.
The short version of the plot is Rachel Watson is a troubled, dangerously alcoholic divorcee, still somewhat hung-up on her ex-husband, Tom, who is now married to his former mistress, Anna. A few houses down from the Watson home lives Megan Hipwell and her husband Luke, who Rachel has become fixated on as she passes the house each day while riding the train into the city. She sees them as the embodiment of true love, two perfect people doing what perfect people do, including plenty of heavy petting and sex.
One day, she noticed Megan on her upstairs deck kissing a strange man, and Rachel’s world shatters. Shortly thereafter, Hipwell disappears, and the story progresses from there to the investigatory and mystery phase. Allison Janney plays Detective Sergeant Riley, and as usual, she’s the most talented person on the screen. She’s very good, and you look forward to her scenes. In fact, there aren’t nearly enough of them, because I’d have rather gone down the rabbit hole more often with her, rather than wallow in the swamp with everyone else.
Emily Blunt is another definite bright spot, because the Rachel Watson role requires her to dress down, appear blackout drunk for 85 percent of the movie, and always be on the verge of tears, all while looking and acting almost embarrassingly jacked up in the head. Also, she’s a beautiful woman, and at no point until the last five minutes does that come across in the least. She does a very nice job at pulling all of this off, but it’s hard to take what she does or says seriously, even though you realize pretty early on that she’s the key to unlocking everything, including her own past.
If you didn’t already know this, The Girl on the Train is pure man-hate, with virtually every male role in the film being a different shade of asshole. Some are portrayed as abusive, some as morons, some as simpering fools, but not one of them is shown in a particularly positive light. That stands to reason, because as crazy as Gone Girl was, the guys in that film were also total asshats. But, it should also clue you in on the biggest issue within this movie.
The twist is ridiculously easy to figure out, and once you’re certain of where The Girl on the Train is headed, you still have to sit for 75 more minutes before THEY figure it out. The red herrings are few, but they’re also ineffective, because for a movie that tries to be shocking and full of “Holy shit, did you see that” kind of moments, the big reveal is a major dud. It’s telegraphed almost to an obscenely disappointing level. The resolution in the film’s climax is just as unimpressive, and to some extent it also glorifies violence as vengeance in a very unsettling way.
One other positive to mention is a secondary unknown that we learn about involving Rachel’s past that sets the final act in motion. Here, the film is at its best. Lisa Kudrow (Martha) isn’t in the movie for long, but she plays truth-teller and explainer in the most important and most entertaining sequence of the entire 112-minute running time. Rebecca Ferguson (Anna) also has a few solid scenes, most of which occur in the last quarter of the movie, but she too, is largely wasted. Justin Theroux (The Leftovers) is good in his role, but what he’s given to do is generally shallow and static, again until the ramp-up to the grand finale.
The Girl on the Train desperately wants to be The Usual Suspects, Primal Fear, The Sixth Sense, or any number of other mindbenders, but what it actually succeeds in becoming is a mediocre television movie. If it weren’t for the salacious content, Meredith Baxter Birney easily could have played one of the main roles on a Saturday night on Lifetime.
When you walk out of The Girl on the Train, you’re likely to think it was “decent” or “okay,” but you won’t be raving about it or thinking about it the next day, unless you’re daydreaming of how much better it could have been. Tate Taylor directed The Help, which was a fabulous adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel. I had high hopes for what he could to with Hawkins’ work, but it’s just not there folks. What you want this film to be does not exist in any form.
At best, I could rate The Girl on the Train a C-, but I’m much more comfortable at a D+. What you liked about Gone Girl is almost completely absent here, and I began comparing it to What Lies Beneath, another far superior film, almost instantly after walking out of the theater. You won’t be blown away or surprised by much of anything, and although there are a lot of pretty people on the screen, eye candy for both sexes, this is a film that’s far more of a gummy bear than a gobstopper.
It might look nice for a few seconds, maybe it even tastes good on the way in, but it’s gone in a flash, and you’re left empty and wanting. Unfortunately, this was the final piece in the bag. There’s nothing left but a ticket stub and the remnants of a bag of popcorn or a cup of soda.
The Girl on the Train should have been better, but although it will make its 45 million dollar budget back quickly, the word of mouth should slow down the locomotive quickly. It’s something you watch one night on pay cable or stream or maybe even pick up at a Redbox, but it’s not worth 12 bucks. If your wife drags you to it, just sigh and hope the dinner is good. If your husband asks you to go, consider a temporary separation.
The train might look shiny and fast, but if I were you, I’d take the bus this time.
I’m @JMartOutkick on Twitter. Find me, engage me, and we’ll take it from there. If not, well, nothing will happen, but I’d sure like it if you did.