Tate Taylor handles his second film based on a bestselling female character-driven book with The Girl on the Train starring Emily Blunt as the titular character. Taylor adapted and directed his friend Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help in 2011, and that screen adaptation earned four Oscar nominations including a win for Octavia Spencer in the Supporting Actress category. It’s a possibility The Girl on the Train could earn Emily Blunt awards attention, however it’s unlikely the film itself will win over critics and/or awards voters the way Taylor’s first feature based on an incredibly popular book did. The Girl on the Train is an absorbing, page-turning (or page-swiping) whodunit, but it doesn’t have quite the same impact as a feature film.
Blunt plays Rachel, an alcoholic who longs for her old life, her ex-husband, and the upscale home they shared in the suburbs. Each day she deliberately takes a seat on the side of the train that will allow her to glimpse her former home out the window. She sips from a water bottle filled with vodka, mourns the death of her marriage, and fantasizes about the life of the gorgeous young woman who resides a few houses down from where her ex-husband lives with his new wife and their baby. Rachel pictures the stranger, who she develops an unhealthy obsession with, as happily married with a loving husband and the perfect life. That changes one day when she spots the woman kissing another man on the deck of her house.
Infuriated because this stranger doesn’t appreciate how good she has it, Rachel inserts herself into the woman’s life, ignoring previous warnings to stay away from her ex-husband’s neighborhood. Rachel displays a disturbing lack of judgement, and her desire to confront this woman for her indiscretions winds up making her one of the lead suspects in a missing persons case.
Emily Blunt is fascinating to watch as Rachel, a woman who has spiraled out of control and who has spent years filled with self-pity, unable to deal with the end of her marriage. Rachel is incredibly damaged and Blunt completely captures her descent into a self-loathing mess as well as her struggle to lift herself out of this depressing abyss she’s slipped into. For both book readers and those only familiar with The Girl on the Train through movie trailers, the main reason to see this R-rated thriller is for Emily Blunt’s performance. She’s fabulous in the lead and carries the movie over bumps in the narrative that would otherwise stall the film.
Haley Bennett, recently seen in The Magnificent Seven, plays Megan, the young woman who Rachel believes threw away an idyllic life to be with someone other than her husband. Rebecca Ferguson plays Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex, Tom (Justin Theroux), who started off as the other woman until Rachel was ultimately pushed out of the picture. Bennett and Ferguson do terrific jobs at drawing the audience in, despite the fact neither are playing sympathetic characters.
Paula Hawkins’ bestseller remains mostly intact in the film adaptation, with the exception of the major change of setting from London to New York. Even with the film’s move to the States, Blunt kept her British accent which isn’t explained in the movie. But, that’s not an issue as New York is full of transplants from other countries. Another change that actually should be a bit off-putting for fans of Hawkins’ novel is the lessening of the temper and cruelty of one of the main supporting characters.
Hawkins created an incredibly complex web of personalities in the book but, because of time constraints, a few are short-changed in the movie. Still, screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson manages to work in the misdirections even if some of the motivations behind the actions are not quite as clear or as carefully laid out as they are in the book. That said, if you liked the book, you’ll most likely enjoy the adaptation. Hawkins’ novel was a tricky story to bring to life on the big screen and the film isn’t nearly as compelling as the book, but it’s still a decent thriller fueled by a first-rate cast.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity
Release Date: October 7, 2016
Running Time: 112 minutes