David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl made quite the stir back when it was released in 2014. The polarizing film drew as much critical acclaim as it did controversy and spawned many an interesting conversation, not to mention an endless fountain of think pieces. So why precisely am I talking about Gone Girl in a review of The Girl on the Train? Well mainly because it’s being called “The New Gone Girl”, which could be considered big shoes to fill. But does The Girl on the Train meet that expectation?
The Girl on the Train centers around Rachel (Blunt), a recent divorcee who rides the same train to her job in the city everyday, sitting in the exact same seat, in the exact same carriage. Her train passes the same two houses everyday: one being the house of her ex-husband Tom (Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Ferguson), and the other being the house of Megan (Bennett) and Scott (Evans) Hipwell, whom Rachel envisions as the perfect married couple. However after witnessing what she believes to be Megan having an affair, Rachel goes on a drunken bender, which ends with her blacking out. When Rachel wakes up, she has no memory of the previous night, and she learns Megan is missing. Rachel then tries to piece together what the hell happened while becoming more and more entwined the lives of the various people affected.
As the length of my plot synopsis might suggest, The Girl on the Train weaves something of a tangled web of a plot, dragging you along on a roller coaster ride of twists, turns, and revelations. It’s the gripping nature of the film’s plot that proves to be its strongest asset by far. The plot is very well-paced, throwing out little nuggets of information and fresh mysteries at a regular enough pace to keep you engaged and interested in what’s happening, all of which builds up to some great twists towards the film’s third act. Given that this is a novel adaptation, I would call this the on-screen equivalent of a “page turner”- gripping and exciting to its very end, with a killer reveal that pretty much turns the entire plot on its head.
The Girl on the Train’s other big strength is two of its major characters, the aforementioned Rachel and Megan, who both prove to be intriguing and fascinating characters to watch. Bennett and Blunt both turn in admirable performances that imbue their character’s with a nice emotional depth that makes it that much easier to invest in them as viewers. The same strength can’t necessarily be extended to the rest of the characters, however, many of whom feel under-developed or one-dimensional. This is particularly noticeable with Anna, who despite being one of the three women on whom the film centers, gets very little development and often tends to fade into the background. The rest of the film’s cast tends to oscillate between fine and verging slightly too much on the melodramatic, and really just ending up being mostly unremarkable.
The Girl on the Train’s biggest problems starts to occur is in its execution. While it’s certainly a great story, The Girl on the Train wasn’t adapted to screen quite as well as it could have been. The film’s beginning is particularly indicative of the trouble the script has of adapting the novel into a more visual style, and is bogged down with lengthy monologues and title cards that would definitely read better than they look on screen. Beyond that, the melodramatic nature of a lot of editing coupled with very traditional style of cinematography leads to the film as a whole feeling more than a little stale, and the melodrama often tends to undercut the intensity of many of the film’s pivotal scenes.
There are more than a few editing techniques which The Girl on the Train leans on a little too heavily at many points throughout the film, the constant repetition of which only adds to the stale feeling of the film’s visual style. And despite my compliments to the plot’s gripping nature earlier, the film’s need for escalation unfortunately results in the plot sometimes stretching out into needlessly over-dramatic territory that undermines the often very dark and serious nature of the material.
It’s a shame too, because given the nature of The Girl on the Train’s premise, it characters, and so many of its themes and ideas are so ripe for really interesting or unorthodox cinematic approaches that could have made it a really memorable film visually. The Girl on the Train’s constant toying with its characters understanding and perception of the reality around them, particularly Rachel, could have been conveyed in some really fascinating and mind-bending ways visually. Of course, I freely admit this is just indulging in my own desires as opposed to the actual intents of its creators, but I guess in this case I can’t necessarily divorce these feelings of disappointment entirely from my viewing of The Girl on the Train.
The Girl on the Train is an unfortunate case: A genuinely interesting and gripping plot is undercut severely by by-the-numbers editing and cinematography, as well as a cast of characters who often fall too much to the side of one-note or just underdeveloped, and melodrama that often escalates to heights a little too absurd to be taken completely seriously. All these factors lead The Girl on the Train to being a film with a great premise that is ultimately let down by unimaginative execution, leaving less satisfaction and more pondering on what could have been.