Based on the New York Times bestseller by Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train (adapted by screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson) follows “Rachel” (Emily Blunt), a self-pitying alcoholic who is the victim of a failed marriage. Her only reprieve is living vicariously through the “perfect” couple whose lives she spies on from her seat on the train.
One day, while looking out the train window, Rachel sees “Megan”—played by an underused Haley Bennett—kissing a man who isn’t her husband, leading Rachel to think that her perfect couple might not be as perfect as she thought. Questions are raised shortly after when Megan is reported missing. (EBT: 2.5/5)
Review by FF2 Guest Critic Elyse B. Thaler (from the POV of someone who read Hawkins’ novel before seeing the film)
The Girl on the Train follows the lives of three women, “Rachel” (Emily Blunt), “Megan” (Haley Bennett), and “Anna” (Rebecca Ferguson), although it is primarily told from Rachel’s point of view. Therefore, much time in Act One is spent showing us the depth of Rachel’s depression. She is a drunk. She drinks on the train taking her in and out of her job in Manhattan. She gets blitzed in bars and sits dazed in Central Park. There is rarely a scene where we don’t see her with a bottle. How did Rachel get to this place?
In Act Two, we find out that Rachel once had a “perfect” life. She had a nice house and a handsome husband (“Tom” played by Justin Theroux). All that was missing was a baby. The drinking starts when Rachel can’t get pregnant. But things really fall apart when Tom divorces her for Anna, his pretty, young mistress. Anna marries Tom, moves into the house, and has Tom’s baby. Understandably, Rachel has trouble letting go and with a little alcohol in her system she drunk dials, lingers outside their home, and has even tries to take the baby.
Down the street lives Megan and her husband, “Scott” (Luke Evans). Watching them from the train, Rachel becomes enamored with their seemingly happy lives. But when Rachel witnesses Megan kissing a man who is not her husband, all illusions about the couple’s happiness disappear. The crushing reality of the couple’s imperfection pushes Rachel to the edge, which turns into a bender that ends with her blacking out while stumbling through her old neighborhood. She wakes the next day with strange bruises and cuts on her body. It isn’t long before the cops show up at her apartment. Megan is missing, and the only clue police have to work with is that the disappearance happened on the same night and in the same neighborhood that Rachel was seen stumbling drunk and out of her mind.
Let’s just get the obvious out of the way: In my experience, books are almost always better than their onscreen adaptations, and this one was no exception. What I found compelling about reading this story on the page was Hawkins’ ability to tell her mystery from three different perspectives. Hawkins didn’t write about three protagonists who cared solely about babies–babies they have, had, or wanted. Because, you know, us ladies are actually real people who have diverse wants and needs that go beyond our biological abilities.
Hawkins’ book allowed us to crawl inside the witty and interesting minds of Rachel, Anna, and Megan. While the film only focused on the void of Rachel’s drinking (a stagnant choice), the book gave her a purpose—to help find Megan—and that gave her problem hope.
In the book, Anna is strong and confident. Being the “other woman” during Rachel’s marriage to Tom was exciting and dangerous, something she was fearlessly unapologetic about. This is only briefly hinted at in the film. The rest of the time Anna is used as a stereotypical over-protective mother.
Meanwhile, Megan’s backstory in the book is left almost completely out of the film (minus one key, plot-spoiling event). Without the backstory, all we get is a cheating woman who purposefully comes across as unlikable because, after all, who likes women that have sex with strangers in the middle of a forest (a ridiculous scene that the film added because the more sex Megan has the easier it is to “slut shame” her). Megan is an example of a woman whose actions we look down upon because their choices don’t fit with our idea of moral correctness. We are expected to assume she is wrong without being given the tools to understand how she got this way.
The problem with The Girl on the Train does not have anything to do with the performances of the actors. It is actually a pretty remarkable cast (augmented with Lisa Kudrow as the wife of Tom’s boos, and Allison Janney as “Detective Riley”). The issue is the lack of depth and growth within these three women, who were written in the novel to be more than just beautiful victims of terrible circumstances.
Anna. Megan, and Rachel were written to be people whose own actions determine their lives. Instead, they were turned into stereotypes: a psychotic childless woman (Rachel ), a seductress (Megan), and cheater (Anna). But women–just like men–are three-dimensional beings with complicated wants and needs, and that is what these characters lacked.
If you are looking for an easy mystery that does not ask you to think too much and allows you to escape from your own life for a couple hours (the way Rachel does by riding a train) then this might be an okay movie for you. But if you want real characters who have depth that go beyond the typical “I’m a woman so I probably want a husband and babies”…. read the book.
Technically, just the scenes between Emily Blunt (as “Rachel”) and Allison Janney (as “Detective Riley”) are sufficient.
Rachel also has a few, brief conversations with her roommate “Cathy” (Laura Prepon) and another brief but revelatory conversation on the train with “Martha” (Lisa Kudrow).
Meanwhile, Megan also babysits for Anna for awhile, so they discuss childcare and schedules.
Elyse Thaler lives in Los Angeles.
Top Photo: Emily Blunt (as “Rachel”).
Middle Photo: Megan (Haley Bennett) babysitting Anna and Tom’s daughter.
Bottom Photo: Drunk Rachel staring at her own reflection.
Photo Credits: Barry Wetcher