It’s always bad when a movie feels like it’s trying desperately to recreate the success of another movie. It’s the same feeling you get when someone’s talking to you and it feels like they’re just trying to impress you, rather than communicate something. The Girl on the Train, The Help director Tate Taylor’s adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ 2015 bestseller, wants so badly to be Gone Girl that you can practically hear the creator’s Salieri-esque inner monologue: Gone Girl was provocative? We’ll be *more* provocative! Gone Girl had a crazy character? We’ll make all the characters crazy!
Even assuming derivativeness isn’t automatically bad (and to me, it isn’t), there’s a basic reason Gone Girl works and The Girl On The Train doesn’t: Gone Girl‘s twists and shocking moments are built on a foundation of believability. For a twist to be interesting, we have to sense a path first. The Girl On The Train never establishes anything, and so it’s just this… big knot of stuff.
Emily Blunt plays Rachel, the titular girl on the train who commutes every day from Ardsley-on-Hudson (a real place in Westchester County) into Manhattan, along some mythical railway line where you can apparently see into people’s houses from your train window. Fine, sure, whatever, I’ll accept the premise. Rachel is an alcoholic divorcée who tells us, in the opening voiceover, that her ex-husband used to say she had too much imagination. As if to illustrate, she tells us she’s become obsessed with a hot girl (Haley Bennett) who lives in a fancy house she can see from her train window. As Rachel says this, we can see Haley Bennett (who looks like she was created in some secret government ingenue lab using DNA from Blake Lively and Jennifer Lawrence) standing on her handsome porch wearing nothing but a bra and a wide-open robe, drinking from a mug like some softcore Italian chamomile ad. Which is funny, because it’s not like it requires an active imagination to become fixated on a beautiful woman gallivanting around her porch in lacy underwear. You had impure thoughts about a lady having sex in front of her massive bay windows? Golly, what a fantasist. Come down from the clouds, Daisy Daydreamer!
Whatever, fine. Bennett’s character (we find out she’s named Megan) has the life Rachel wishes she had. Meanwhile, Rachel is a drunk with a habit of blacking out. She descended into this funk on account of she couldn’t get pregnant, took to the drink, and had her husband (Justin Theroux) leave her for their realtor, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).
Are you with me so far? Okay, good. So it turns out, Megan, who’s usually depicted banging her meathead husband Scott (Luke Evans) atop some tasteful furnishings, like a Nicholas Sparks-directed Crate and Barrel ad, also nannies for Anna. Who is also Megan’s neighbor. That is, Megan, the hot girl Rachel is vicariously obsessed with, nannies for Anna, who lives with Rachel’s ex-husband in the house he and Rachel used to share. Now, stay with me here: Doesn’t the fact that these characters are all already connected kind of negate the need for the dopey train window conceit? But fine, what the f*ck ever.
Megan, meanwhile, is having an affair with her therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic, played by Edgar Ramirez. Why is she going to the therapist? Man, don’t even ask.
Seems like a lot of story, right? Part of the problem with The Girl on the Train is that we’re well into a series of convoluted dream sequences and flashbacks (which may or may not have happened because our narrator is a blackout drunk) before we even know who our protagonist is or where we are. It feels entirely unstuck from reality. And in an unacknowledged way, like we’re just supposed to accept all of this.
The casting only serves to push it further. Emily Blunt is, obviously, British (and her character is acknowledged as such). Her ex-husband is American. His new wife sounds vaguely Irish (unclear if this was intentional). Their nanny is American, and her husband (played by a Welsh actor) seems to be doing some kind of streetwise Harvey Keitel impression — while living in a postcard house in a tiny Westchester suburb. What is this guy’s job, exactly? I’m honestly less interested in the affairs and double crosses than in how this collection of people ever came together in the first place.
But The Girl On The Train seems uninterested in telling us. At times, hilariously so. At one point, Rachel goes to see Dr. Kamal Abdic (who, remember, is Megan‘s therapist, but again, don’t ask). She asks where his accent is from. Instead of just answering the question like a human being might, he gets defensive. “You have an accent too,” he says. And “I am an American citizen.”