Girl on a Train is, incredibly enough, about a girl on a train, played by Emily Blunt, who is very good and convincing as the damaged, alcoholic central character; good enough that I’d keep an eye on her if she ever visited my home, just in case.
Blunt, as Rachel—the narrator in the film adaptation of Paula Hawkin’s bestselling novel—staggers through the two-hour run in varying states of intoxication; her eyes are glazed, her cheeks puffed out and splotchy, her lips often painfully chapped. She conveys throughout distinctive levels of drunkenness, and though director Tate Taylor employs camera tricks to hammer home that this lady is wasted, they’re wholly unnecessary. You can tell how far gone she’s supposed to be just by looking at Blunt’s face, where shame and smudged eyeliner are visible at all times. Blunt is a capable actress, and her performance smoothes out the film’s bumpy execution, which is peppered with enough jumbled flashbacks that you’d need a Homeland-style conspiracy board to fully track them all.
Director Tate Taylor tells Vanity Fair that Blunt, who reportedly watched a lot of episodes of Intervention to prepare for the part, “developed a system of levels [to determine] how drunk she would be in each scene. Level four was her most drunk. We developed what her eyes, speech, and cheeks would be like—we had these prosthetic pieces called plumpers. It was like a retainer that forced her cheeks to be puffy, just because alcohol gives you a puffy face... Then we figured out what level three looked like, and what level two looked like.” It worked.
That kind of consistency is something good about the movie I can discuss here in this review. Also good and consistent were Justin Theroux as Tom, Rachel’s ex-husband, and the ominous heart-thumping overture, which makes for a good drinking game if you want to be drunker than the girl on the train.
The film adaptation hews close to the book, though it moves the story from London and sets it against the overcast backdrop of Westchester, bookended by overhead shots of the eponymous train snaking its way through lush rolling suburbs. Blunt, as Rachel, rides it back and forth each day while pretending to go to work and drinking vodka out of a water bottle. She likes to look out the window, where she can see Tom, his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their baby as they move about their house, which is located adjacent to the tracks. Rachel also likes to watch a couple (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans) a few doors down hang out in their backyard and have sex in their curtainless home, until one day Rachel thinks she sees something disturbing, and suddenly the girl goes missing.
The movie ultimately plays out a bit like a train ride. You spend a lot of time wondering, Are we there yet? And then, before you know it, you are, and that’s that.
Which is not to say there aren’t multiple mysteries that pop up in this film—how does the actress playing the missing girl look so much like Jennifer Lawrence, for one. Why did they waste Allison Janney as a detective who’s very good at derisively saying the words “drunk woman”?? How did no one speak up to point out that that’s not how alcoholic blackouts work???
And therein lies the problem at the heart of the story, which requires Blunt to retrieve a memory lost in an alcoholic blackout, a feat that believe you me is not possible. But it’s necessary for the climax, which ultimately turns on perception. Rachel might just be a sad-sack drunk, but there are hints she could be something worse when she blacks out. Tom appears, at first glance, the picture of a man trying to be patient with his ex’s constant drunken interruptions into his life, but there’s something ominous in his gestures. Scott, the missing girl’s husband, seems a good fit for her assailant, but then again maybe he’s just an intense guy who got played. And is the missing girl, whose flashbacks reveal her to be a Bad Girl with a capital B, even really missing? Perhaps she was just on location filming the final installment of the Hunger Games. The only way to know for sure ultimately rests in Rachel’s magical memory recovery. Do my 21st birthday next!
But that being said, the real problem with this movie is it’s not as good as the book, which frankly wasn’t as good as Gone Girl, the other murder mystery about a blonde girl with an unhappy marriage and self-control issues. In closing, this movie is fine and Emily Blunt should be nominated for something.