Written by Yosra Osman

Arts

Review: The Girl on the Train

Great performance, shame about the film. Yosra Osman talks the underwhelming adaptation of an underwhelming book.

Emily Blunt

Blunt appraisal: as the titular Rachel, Emily Blunt is the best thing about The Girl on the Train. Photos: Universal Pictures.

After much thought, I’ve decided that there’s quite a bit wrong with The Girl on the Train, but Emily Blunt definitely isn’t one of them.

Eighteen months after Paula Hawkins’ thriller went flying off the shelves, we have a film adaptation, directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Winter’s Bone). It concerns Rachel (Blunt), an alcoholic who becomes severely depressed after her husband has an affair and leaves her for another woman (Anna, played by Rebecca Ferguson).

Every day on her commute she goes past her old house, now occupied by said husband and home-wrecker. She becomes fascinated by a house a few doors down, occupied by the seemingly perfect couple of Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans).

Rachel’s fixation with Scott and Megan is turned on its head when, one day, she spots Megan apparently having an affair. Furious and confused as to how someone could spoil such a perfect lifestyle, Rachel gets extremely drunk and gets off the train. The next day Megan has gone missing and Rachel cannot remember what’s happened.

As someone who didn’t really like Hawkins’ novel, I realise I may be quite biased in writing about this film, so let me start by saying I went into the film with an open mind. Kind of. I at least appreciate the novel for what it is and for keeping you interested in what’s going to happen. My problem is that the film doesn’t even do that.

“There are two main types of character in The Girl on the Train: the victims and the baddies. The victims, who, it is worth noting, are all women, are thinly drawn characters, portrayed as not much more than basket cases.”

Firstly, there is the issue of plot. The novel is a decent page-turner, despite the fact that the plot twists are ludicrous and the big revelation is hugely underwhelming. The film, however, fudges this even more, somehow managing to speed through the plot and yet, at the same time, making it feel like it goes on forever.

The narrative is disjointed, even in keeping with the novel’s structure, in which the three main characters (Rachel, Anna and Megan) give their own perspectives. In the end, I found myself paying more attention to the weird costuming choices (why was Megan dressed like a 1970s pornstar?), and the random appearances of Lisa Kudrow or Laura Prepon, than what was going on.

Secondly, there is the major issue of characterisation, in which all of the characters are one-dimensional. Even Rachel, despite Emily Blunt’s best efforts, is only half of the character she is in the book.

There are two main types of character in The Girl on the Train: the victims and the baddies. The victims, who, it is worth noting, are all women, are thinly drawn characters, portrayed as not much more than basket cases. Their purpose is to push forward the plot, without fully developing their back stories or personalities in a way that makes them engaging.

The baddies are all very, very bad.

Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and Tom (Justin Theroux).

Not-so-happy families: Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and Tom (Justin Theroux).

Thirdly, there is the issue of style and genre. Marketed as a psychological thriller, the film is more of a tedious melodrama. It loses its thrill quite quickly, as you can tell what’s going to happen pretty early on (I asked a friend who hadn’t read the book to confirm this).

The man in front of me in the cinema commented, very loudly, to his companion that the ‘big reveal’ was too obvious when it happened. And it is very obvious. The film also veers very close to being unintentionally comedic, with certain moments drawing out a few bursts of laughter from the audience.

Emily Blunt saves the film from going completely off the rails. She puts her all into it, delivering a great, raw performance as the vulnerable Rachel. She is nearly always on camera, often with extreme close-ups of her face, and she does a solid job of carrying the film. It’s just a shame that it’s not all that great a film to carry.

I’m sorry Emily, I really wanted to like this more, but I’m afraid I just couldn’t.

@yozzie_osman

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Written by Yosra Osman

Yosra Osman is a mid-twenties film fan and self-confessed daydreamer of dangerous proportions