“The Girl on the Train” Film Review
The Girl on the Train: Some films come out around this time of the year that are unashamedly tailor-made to be an “Oscar contender.” “The Light Between Oceans” immediately comes to mind when thinking about 2016’s offerings of “Oscar bait” thus far. At the same time, other films released try to tell an interesting story on the surface, but they’re released during awards season, thus making them a part of the “Oscar season” mix. That’s where Tate Taylor’s “The Girl on the Train” comes into play. Taylor had huge success back in 2011 when he directed “The Help,” which was nominated for four Oscars (including “Best Picture”) and won “Best Supporting Actress” for Octavia Spencer’s work in the film. Three years later, Universal hired him to tackle the James Brown biopic “Get on Up,” and while it did get favorable reviews, it wasn’t the awards player the studio had hoped. Now he’s back, and this time, he’s helming the adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ book of the same name.
The story centers around Rachel, an alcoholic practically obsessed with her ex-husband who she caught having an affair. Every day she takes the train to the city and back just to pass her old house and to see how he, along with his new wife and child, are living. Just a couple houses down from her ex is a couple who Rachel sees as “perfect” and “madly in love.” On one particular day, though, Rachel sees something that she shouldn’t have seen, and when the woman mysteriously disappears, Rachel stumbles into a situation that could result in life or death for her and, maybe, those around her. I’m not the only one who thought this sounded like something written by the author of “Gone Girl,” right?
I didn’t go in expecting a lot from this film. The trailers looked decent enough to me; the cast was solid, and I was just hoping to get some entertainment out of this. Needless to say, entertainment is precisely what I got while watching this flick. Whether it was for the reasons the filmmakers were intending or not, is the question. Considering the film was made to be an intense mystery-thriller, I’ll just come out and say that I found this to be entertaining for all the wrong reasons. It’s obvious that Taylor and co. had much passion and worked their hardest on this project, and I’m not going to say that it was a lazy film in the slightest. Unfortunately, effort and passion don’t always make up a good film, and that certainly applies here. “The Girl on the Train” is a spectacularly awful movie, to be blunt. In my eyes, it’s the funniest unintentional comedy of the Oscar season thus far. “The Light Between Oceans” had its moments of unintentional hilarity, but I was giggling like a little school girl 5 minutes into this, and that stayed consistent until the very end.
Let’s start with the person who’s most likely going to have the most buzz around her performance: Emily Blunt. I’m willing to guess that there are those who will praise her performance, and to that, I will ask “Are you serious right now?” I understand she’s playing an alcoholic, and while I don’t know any alcoholics personally, I still know that you’re not supposed to laugh at everything an alcoholic does in a film that’s meant to be serious. Films like “Flight” and “The Spectacular Now” tackle alcoholism as something serious, but it’s not shoved down your throat to the point where the suspension of disbelief is gone. Here, Blunt felt so hammy and so cartoonish that it made her character less interesting and more irritating. In fact, the way she’s shown at the beginning as this borderline stalker makes her very hard to like and root for. Sure, more layers to the character come into play, and she got more tolerable as things go along, but that’s not saying a whole lot. Blunt’s giving a performance that feels as if she saw someone drunk in a movie one time and gave an overblown imitation of that.
Haley Bennett’s performance isn’t very good as well, but compared to Blunt’s over-the-top work, it’s fine, I guess. Her character’s written in such a way that makes her less engaging than she should be, and it doesn’t help that the performance itself felt rather wooden and stale. Sure it could be argued that it was to show how emotionless she was in her normal life, but still, there are better ways to both write that and perform that to keep a character entertaining still. Equally as one-dimensional and bland is Justin Theroux, who, like Bennett, doesn’t do anything or even try to do anything to make his character even the slightest bit more charismatic. And would you believe it, I haven’t even gotten to easily the worst performance in the entire movie.
Rebecca Ferguson has been in some notable films and television shows, but she’s not necessarily a household name yet. Her work here isn’t going to help that change at all. It seemed like the film wanted to combine the craziness of Blunt’s character and the bland nature of Bennett’s character into an entity of its own, and Ferguson’s role is what they came up with as a result. Every time she came on screen, this odd mixture of being both annoyed and entertained swirled through my body like a tornado. And yet, it’s in the wackiness of her role that keeps her in my head. Objectively this was the most abysmally acted performance in the movie, but that didn’t take away from how unintentionally hysterical her antics got, so I guess you can say she did just ok.
Luke Evans and Édgar Ramírez were both good, but there wasn’t anything necessarily exceptional or noteworthy about them. They served their purpose to the story, and although both of them are randomly tossed to the side at one point and never seen again without explanation, I managed to buy into their portrayals. Alison Janney was my personal favorite of the cast, and this was mainly due to how she was the only character in the whole movie with any sense of logic behind her decisions. It did also help that she was the most interesting and entertaining one of the ensemble, so there’s that. If anyone was going into this looking for “Oscar-worthy” work from notable names, then go look somewhere else, because I can’t seem to find anything here fitting such a description.
As much as I ragged on the actors in the film before, I don’t 100% blame them for their mediocre work. I’m not even going to put a lot of blame Tate Taylor, though I am going to get to him soon. Instead, I’m focusing the majority of the blame on the screenplay, written by Erin Cressida Wilson. Having not read Paula Hawkins’ book, I can’t compare the two. What I can do, on the flipside, is compare Wilson’s work on this film to another film she co-wrote: Jason Reitman’s “Men, Women, and Children.” Both films have this way of presenting rather one-dimensional, hammy, and downright irritating characters that do nothing more than annoy.
If you want to make a character unlikable or even likable for the matter, you have to write them as real human beings. As messed up as people are, there should still be some legit reason as to why they’re like this. This allows for an audience member to feel empathy towards someone. I don’t know how much of the blame should fall on Jason Reitman, who co-wrote the script with Wilson but having seen both of these films, it’s apparent that the characters act quite similar. We’re not watching humans or even characters of humans; we’re watching cardboard cutouts of people made by someone who doesn’t understand how to write dialogue and strong characters. It doesn’t help that the twist this film has at the end is so apparent and predictable from as early as the first 10 minutes. I’m fine with a twist being predictable, as long as the execution is strong. Wilson did not execute this story well, and it’s the way she wrote these characters and adapted this supposedly great novel to the silver screen that causes me to give her the most flack out of everyone involved.
Tate Taylor isn’t going to get away from this scot free either. I’ll go out and say right off the bat that “The Help” is one of my favorite films from 2011, as it had great acting, sharp writing, and it even made me cry a couple of times. “Get on Up” I wasn’t the biggest fan of despite a stellar lead performance from Chadwick Boseman, putting me in the minority on that if you avidly look at Rotten Tomatoes scores. I admire that he attempted to steer away from tackling yet another story about racial issues in America, but the results were lackluster at best. Usually, a director has a style of filmmaking that differentiates them from others out there.
Taylor doesn’t seem to have any style, making his direction feel rather restrained and tame by comparison. It’s almost as if he took on this project to be safe and tell his A-list actors that whatever they were doing was just great. The only type of “style” I could somewhat see is that nearly every shot of someone talking is shot up close and with a wide angle lens, making the scenes feel even more uncomfortable than they should. I don’t doubt Taylor’s talent, but it seems like he’s lost interest in choosing great scripts after “The Help” came out. There’s probably a great script out there that, if he got his hands on, he could work wonders with, but at this time, we’re stuck with him working on projects such as this.
As much as I’m bashing “The Girl on the Train” for all of its problems, I would honestly still recommend checking it out. Not just because you may see something in it that I don’t, but mostly to see who else can make fun of and shred this movie to pieces. To me, this is one of those glorious disasters of a film, a spectacular trainwreck you just have to see to believe. The acting is so bad, the script so abysmal, and the twist so predictable that it’s hard not to giggle like a child when watching a lot of the story unfold. At least, that’s how I was. Then again, it could just be my cynical side finding ways to make fun of anything. “The Girl on the Train” tries so hard to be intense and mysterious that, at the end of the day, it misses the mark completely. It ends up as a schlocky, bland, and even cartoonish thriller that’s both hard to take seriously and hard to watch because, potentially, this could have been something stellar.