The Girl on the Train — A Better Movie than Gone Girl?

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I can’t think of any two recent books that have captivated girlkind (excuse me, womankind), so much as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. These two psycho thrillers were inflected with enough real-world coolness and character complexity to feel both like addictive page turners and important documents about Being a Woman Today.

Being a staunch audiobook listener (I contend that they get me OFF the couch, which is good), I found The Girl on the Train to be so captivating that I continually walked my dog in the rain to find out what happened next. Bonus for the audiobook: each narrator was performed by a different voice actress, all of whom where very talented.

After seeing what mostly-good director David Fincher did with Gone Girl, I walked into the theater skeptical about what Hollywood would do with The Girl on the Train. At least this movie doesn’t feature Ben Affleck, who is super-effing boring or someone bland yet still “Hollywood ideal” like Rosamund Pike. Instead we get Emily Blunt, who has clawed her way up from playing an anorexic assistant in The Devil Wears Prada to playing parts in Respectable Movies That Men Like (Sicario). As unrelatable as I still find her, she can act.

While Blunt’s version of Rachel, the alcoholic, supposedly “bloated” protagonist is a bit different from what you picture from the book, her portrayal is still inspired and compelling. Innocently sipping vodka from a straw, cooing in babies’ faces with booze breath and screaming into lipstick-vandalized mirrors, she truly does capture the madness of a woman haunted by rage and guilt.

The other two lady protags are played by as-yet-unknown actresses. Haley Bennett, who I might call a pinup version of Jennifer Lawrence, plays the checked-out, hypersexual Megan with coolness and affliction. Shots of her leaning against her porch in sexy undies for all the train riders to see feel a bit ludicrous, but that’s movies folks. Rebecca Ferguson does a nice job as wife and mother Anna, which entails looking maddeningly pretty at first, and then succumbing to the same waves of gaslighting that led Rachel to her downfall.

Once you’ve watched the movie for a bit, you realize that it isn’t set in England, like the book, but instead in New York City. Huh? Why? Isn’t taking the train while boozing hard more of a British thing? Even worse, it takes awhile to put this together, since about half the main characters have accents. Most confusing is the casting of Kamal Abdic, the psychologist who was the only possibly non-white person in the book. His character in the movie at one point broke into Spanish, which surprised me. (I looked it up. Apparently Abdic is usually a Bosnian name, Kamal is usually an Arabic name and the actor, Édgar Ramírez, is Venezuelan.) At one point, Rachel points out his accent and asks him where he is from, which he refuses to answer. Maybe this was a wink at the movie’s own odd setting and casting?

Despite its “huh?” moments, The Girl on the Train was a compelling movie that stayed somewhat close to the book. At the end, it also played up the symbolism of what had unraveled in a way that I would even call cool. Unlike Gone Girl, it didn’t bland up what was otherwise a rebellious, juicy and lady-powered book to the point of fulfilling a Hollywood mold. It stayed fairly true to the story I became so obsessed with. That said, I’m not sure how good the movie will seem if you haven’t read the book. If you saw it under this condition, let me know what you thought. And for gosh sakes, read the book.

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