Before I get around to talking about The Girl On The Train, I’m going to tell you a little story about myself.
A few years ago, I used to make a point of riding the DART train. (DART stands for Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Large sections of Upstream Color were filmed on a DART train.) Every weekend, instead of driving out to the Dallas Angelika or the Dallas Museum of Art and contributing to climate change or whatever it was that I was supposedly doing whenever I drove my car, I would hop on the train. It was a little inconvenient but I was saving the world. Or something.
It was about a 30 minute ride from my local DART Station to downtown Dallas and I have to admit that I actually used to enjoy it. I would always look out the window and watch as Dallas passed by. I got to know all of the buildings and houses on the route pretty well. Thanks to riding the DART train, I discovered that there’s a house on Forrest Lane that’s been boarded up for five years and counting. Near Spring Creek, there’s a two-story house that I wouldn’t mind owning. It’s a two-story glass house and it has a really nice deck that looks out over the creek. I would always look at those houses and, in my mind, I would make up lurid stories about the people who lived there. For a while, it was great fun.
(Unfortunately, it eventually stopped being fun but that’s a story that will have to wait for whenever I finally get around to reviewing Ms. 45…)
As I watched The Girl On The Train, I started to think about those times on the DART train. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that every story that I came up with while sitting on my DART train was a hundred times more interesting than anything that happened in The Girl On The Train.
Emily Blunt stars as Rachel Watson. Rachel is an alcoholic. She got divorced from Tom (Justin Theroux) after she discovered that Tom was having an affair with their real estate agent, Anna Boyd (Rebecca Ferguson). Tom and Anna are now married and have a baby. Rachel, meanwhile, is a blackout drunk who has been unemployed for a year. She spends her time on a train, drinking and ride back and forth between Connecticut and New York.
Every night, the train stops near Rachel’s old house. Rachel looks out the window and she stares at her former home. Occasionally, she sees Tom and Anna celebrating their new life. Rachel also finds herself obsessing on the house next door. Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) lives at the house and works as Tom and Anna’s nanny. As Rachel discovers from looking out the train’s window, Megan is cheating on her husband with a mysterious, bearded man (Edgar Ramirez).
(Rachel has a really good view from her window seat. Admittedly, I’m notoriously near-sighted so I might not be the best judge, but I could never actually see what was happening inside any of the houses that I stared at. Rachel, however, must have super vision. Maybe she was Supergirl before she turned into an alcoholic. Who knows?)
One day, a drunk-off-her-ass Rachel forces her way off of the train and stumbles towards her former home. She thinks that she sees Anna jogging and chases after her. “Whore!” Rachel yells before passing out. When Rachel regains consciousness, she can’t remember anything that happened. But she has vague memories of being involved in some sort of struggle…
Eventually, Rachel learns that Megan is missing and presumed murdered. Even worse, Rachel is the number one suspect. The main detective (who is somewhat inevitably played by Allison Janney) suspects that Rachel mistook Megan for Anna. It turns out that Rachel has a history of erratic behavior. She even tried to kidnap Tom and Anna’s baby! Seriously, lock Rachel up!
Trying to figure out what happened and clear her name, Rachel approaches Megan’s husband, Scott (Luke Evans) and pretends to be a friend of Megan’s. It turns out that Scott was an abusive husband. Soon, he’s both confiding in Rachel and encouraging her to start drinking again. Rachel starts spending more and more time with Scott and it becomes obvious that she’s trying to live the life that she once imagined that Megan and Scott had. There’s an interesting subtext to both Rachel’s obsession with Megan and her attempt to start a new relationship with Scott but it’s never really explored. Instead, it’s brought up and then abandoned a few scenes later.
In fact, as a film, The Girl On The Train never really explores anything. (It only grudgingly hints at the complexity of the book on which it was based.) As opposed to similar films like Gone Girl or Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, there’s not much depth or insight to The Girl On The Train. I’ve read some reviews that have complained that The Girl On The Train is “melodramatic” or “trashy,” but, if that were the case, it would at least be a fun movie to watch. This is one of those films that thinks it’s a lot deeper than it actually is.
The Girl On The Train was probably doomed as soon as Tate Taylor was hired to direct it. Taylor previously directed both The Help and a musical biopic called Get On Up. Tate Taylor is one of those directors who goes out of his way not to challenge his audience (The Help is one of the most positive films about systemic racism that I’ve ever seen) but The Girl On The Train needed a director with more of a subversive edge. The Girl On The Train needed a director who would embrace the film’s pulpy sensibility as opposed to one who would go out of his way to sand away the story’s rough edges and create an inoffensive and bland product that would be perfect for mass consumption.
And then you’ve got the film’s cast, which is full of talented performers who all seem to be uniquely uninspired by the material that they have to work with. Emily Blunt did such good work in Looper and Sicario so why is she so boring here? Why does Justin Theroux seem to be eagerly awaiting the end of the movie? Why are both Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson reduced to playing characters who feel as if they’ve sprung out of a misogynist’s daydream? What is Edgar Ramirez even doing in the movie? Or Lisa Kudrow? Or Laura Prepon? Why is it that every world-weary female authority figure has to be played by Allison Janney? Why? Why? Why!?
So, I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with The Girl On The Train. I think I would have been more entertained if I had just hopped on the DART train and let my imagination do the rest of the work.