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).