Remember Prisoners? That angry movie about doubt, guilt, kidnapping, violence, and mental illness? Well, The Girl on the Train attends the same weekly meetings. It’s generally not a pleasant viewing experience. It’s a murder mystery on top of multiple affairs, hidden motive therapy sessions, and daily commutes trough the suburbs. The Girl on the Train is the best attempt I’ve seen thus far to make Emily Blunt look shabby – but I wouldn’t call it a total success. She’s more of a paper bag princess than that lady with the grocery cart and creative tinfoil hat. The Girl on the Train is a confusing movie that somehow comes together in the end with an unenthusiastic hurrah muffled by cold blooded murder and sweater weather.
Sometimes we make up stories about everyday people. The morning coffee guy at Starbucks, the woman with the flyers on Main St., the uncommonly beautiful couple in their uncommonly beautiful house on the rail line… Lonely Rachel (Emily Blunt) imagines this couple has the perfect life basking in love and sunshine, and every morning she passes their house on the train she envies them a little more. Does she know that the blonde on the balcony is her ex-husband’s new wife’s babysitter? Rachel is certainly aware that they’re neighbours. Every day after fawning over Megan (Haley Bennett) on the balcony, Rachel rides past her former dream home with her former husband (Justin Theroux), his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their baby. Then Rachel drinks. This goes on until one night Rachel is so wasted she gets off the train at her husband’s stop, follows Anna through a tunnel, blacks out, and wakes up with blood-stained clothes and no memory. To boot, Megan – who looks shockingly like Anna – is missing.
Rachel can’t just let it be. She has to pull the pieces together and fix her shattered memory to clear her name of suspicion. Her efforts, however, are hampered by a heavy drinking problem and an obsession over her stolen life. Emily Blunt plays a mean drunk. You can tell the difference between a buzzed Rachel and a Rachel off the rails. The change is measured in dishes broken and lethal objects swung. Rachel isn’t easy on the world, but she treats it with more respect than she treats herself. She’s a self-loathing woman living in the mess she’s gathered around herself. It’s not a pretty picture. We know it and Rachel knows it. When she’s not staring at Megan’s sexy husband (the guy who’s praying for his wife to come home) she’s stealing babies and stalking people all over the city. She is multiple court cases waiting to happen and a generally soggy mess.
That said… Emily Blunt does make it hard to blame Rachel. Her ex’s new wife is beautiful, a great mother, and the perfect homebody. She also looks exactly like her nanny, Megan. Casting pulled a real rabbit out of the cloning capsule on this one. It took me almost the full length of the movie to decide that Anna and Megan are two different actors and that I wasn’t stuck in The Parent Trap: Domestic Violence Edition. At one point I considered them as the same character, and thought The Girl on the Train is as much an issue of identity crisis for these two blondes as it is for Rachel. That would make for a totally different movie (but an oddly interesting watch).
The timeline is what really makes The Girl on the Train unique. We start off somewhere around the present, then jump back and forth between pre-disappearance and post-disappearance. We do this pas de trois with all female leads at the same time, showing every side of the Rubik’s Cube through beer goggles, with blackout flashbacks and everything. It’s a bit of a mess. Eventually the shadowy backlights are turned off and the S.W.A.T. car high beams come on and everything makes sense. The revelation is satisfying, but the hill we climbed to get there was rough, dirty, and a little shameful.
The Girl on the Train isn’t as shocking as Gone Girl, nor does it have as much momentum thanks to the back and forth timeline. What it does have is a sobbing Rachel who crawls from therapy session to bar to storm drain in desperate search of her memory. The mystery is interesting, but the path it takes to get there is tedious, with generally gritty and unlikable characters. Between being morning drunk, stalking, dead babies, rape, lies, and domestic abuse, The Girl on the Train is a cheerful 5/10.