Tate Taylor’s adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ novel “Girl on the Train” desperately wants to situate itself in a small corner of Westchester County, moving the location of the novel from outside London to this area, but it is this area in name and the occasional location shot only. It in no way feels organic to and enmeshed in the area. It is in fact something of a mystery why this particular location would have been selected.
To be sure, “Girl on the Train” is indeed a mystery, just not one about the location change from the book. Instead, it asks the question of why the wretchedly awful Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) has gone missing. This is a question being asked by the cops, led by Officer Riley (Allison Janney), but we see it more from the point of view of the alcoholic Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt). This last is the girl in question (let us not get into at this point any lengthy discussion of why a 33-year-old woman is a girl, but anyone pointing out the foolishness of it would not be wrong).
Rachel used to live on the same block as Megan, back when she was married to Tom Watson (Justin Theroux), who cheated on her with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), to whom Tom is now married. Tom and Anna are interested in Megan’s whereabouts as well (she worked as their nanny for a time). Also interested in her whereabouts is Megan’s emotionally abusive husband, Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans).
If that all seems like a little too much, like it’s a few too many bad/troubled people doing bad/troubling things, it is. Not only that, but the above paragraphs don’t even take into account Megan’s psychiatrist, Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez), with whom Megan was having an affair. Nor have we delved into Officer Riley offering terrible advice to characters and stirring the pot in nonsensical ways in order to… who knows.
As is hopefully becoming apparent, one of the main issues with “Girl on the Train” is that it is difficult to find someone for whom to root. Obviously we are meant to side with Rachel, but she spends so much of the movie self-sabotaging that it becomes difficult. Beyond that, Megan is painted as an horrific human being. We are purposefully made to feel nothing but dislike for her horrendousness – those watching obviously would not wish harm upon her, but not wishing harm is very different than being forced to sit through a two hour movie trying to care about what happened.
Eventually, the story tries to walk everything back – we come to understand where some (but only some) of Megan’s troubles originate and that maybe we have judged some of the people too harshly, but that’s only if you subscribe to the theory that having a troubled past gives one the right to be a terrible person in the present (I vote that some actions are inexcusable). Additionally, by that point the audience has already put something close to 90 minutes into disliking most of the characters on screen, if we are to take back those feelings, the reasons had better be spectacular. They are pretty solid for some of the characters, but not for the plethora of horribleness we have witnessed virtually across the board.
These late-to-the-game feelings are supposed to be engendered via flashbacks, and “Girl on the Train,” as a whole, regularly utilizes flashbacks to fill us in on backstories. In fact, it does so to almost an abusive extent – we get flashbacks inside of flashbacks only to come out of one and then the next to then quickly be transported to someone else’s flashback. To say that it is confusing is to greatly undersell it.
At this point it seems almost like gilding the lily to discuss a phone recording played by Rachel repeatedly in the film, but briefly… relatively early on, we watch Rachel record a drunken video, one that she then watches a couple of times during the movie. This would be fine except that it certainly seems as though the take used when she watches the cell phone video is not the same as the take used when we see her record – the dialogue doesn’t appear to match.
Although Blunt gives a fine performance for most of the film, she is done no favors by the editing, the music, the location, and the fog (Ardsley-on-Hudson seemingly existing on Arthur Conan Doyle’s moors). Moments meant to be serious and tension-filled result in peals of laughter.
By the time the credits roll on “Girl on a Train,” it is actually difficult to hate most of the characters. Instead, we see them as sad, pathetic, shadows of human beings. It is us, however, the members of the audience, who have paid the real price.
photo credit: Universal