The absurd is king in “The Girl on the Train,” this year’s attempt at a suburban-noir soap opera directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help”). The film follows three women whose lives are intertwined seemingly by fate. Spoiler alert, though — it’s not the cosmos that has the power in this film. It’s the men.
Rachel (Emily Blunt, “Sicario”) is an alcoholic who develops an obsession with Megan (Haley Bennett, “Hardcore Henry”), a woman she watches from the train on her way to and from work. Megan spends her days lounging around her balcony, flashing her underwear to the train, and reminiscing about her troubled past. Megan’s neighbor is none other than Rachel’s ex-husband and his new wife — small world!
It is Megan’s disappearance and Rachel’s possible involvement with the incident — the whole thing rendered unclear thanks to a conveniently timed blackout — that sets the film in motion. From there, the film twists itself into a giant knot it can’t completely untie by the closing credits.
The bestselling novel by Paula Hawkins on which the film is based is full of thematics aspects that work well on paper, namely unreliable narration, shifting points of view and thematic darkness. But when transferred to the screen in ways as literal as the ones Taylor chooses, much of the suspense, surprise and catharsis is lost entirely.
“The Girl on the Train” is spectacularly over-the-top. It wants so badly to be this year’s “Gone Girl,” all sex, revenge, careful lighting and unrealistic homes. But “The Girl on the Train” feels like a younger sister playing dress-up with everything that worked in David Fincher’s thriller. Nothing seems to fit right.
It’s clear that Blunt is doing the absolute best she can to make Rachel likeable. That’s a difficult task for a stalker ex-wife who sips vodka out of a water bottle and always seems to be crying or about to cry. She doesn’t exactly fail. The script (written by Erin Cressida Wilson) doesn’t set her up for any sort of success — her dialogue is either robotic or melodramatic, and never strikes a vein of empathy or even likability. But she, unlike any other actor in the film, is able to breath a little life into her pawn of a character.
A lot of that comes from her ability to act drunk. With the help of some trippy editing and blurry point of view shots, Blunt lurches and stumbles, smudges her mascara and hangs her eyelids heavy in one of the most well-acted displays of drunkenness I’ve seen in a long time.
I have to take a moment here to share my deepest appreciation for the creativity that goes into choosing the weaponry in these suburban thrillers. No one ever has a gun or a regular knife. Instead we get the sexy side of self-defense, where letter openers and corkscrews are lethal objects. “The Girl on the Train” is almost worth it just to see the latter screwed deeper into a cheating husband’s neck by his scorned wife. How badass, how bougie.
“The Girl on the Train” is the most wonderful type of bad movie. It’s bad — there’s no denying that — but it’s brutally entertaining. There’s something to be said about a movie with poor acting, a confusing, loophole-filled plot and unlikable characters that still manages to captivate its audience. “The Girl on the Train” is a car (or really rather, a train) crash that’s impossible to look away from.