At last, a movie that answers the burning question: “What would a large-budget, big screen Lifetime channel potboiler play like?” Sadly, that answer is “deadly dull and obscenely morose.”
“The Girl on the Train” was a no-brainer in terms of adapting it for the screen from Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel; in execution however it’s flat and lifeless. Lacking in the tongue-firmly-in-cheek melodrama that made “Gone Girl” such twisted fun, it telegraphs its handful of twists well before the halfway mark and then proceeds to drag itself to a half-hearted conclusion.
The plot is more convoluted than complex: The titular commuter is Rachel (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic divorcee who rides the Metro-North to and from the New York ‘burbs every day, drinking vodka from a water bottle until she can barely walk and dreaming of a better life, such as the one she imagines for a beautiful couple, Megan and Scott Hipwell (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans), along her daily route.
The Hipwells happen to live on the same street as Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), his mistress-turned-wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their baby girl, in the house that Tom and Rachel once shared. Rachel doesn’t know Megan happens to be their nanny, nor does she know who the identity of the strange man whom she sees Megan sharing an intimate moment one morning – at least not until shortly after Megan goes missing.
That last bit becomes a serious issue for Rachel, who awakes on the morning after Megan’s disappearance with a head wound and scant memories of the night before. She and Scott become the prime suspects in an investigation lead by Detective Sgt. Riley (Alison Janney). A clunky flashback structure reveals how Rachel’s drinking impacted her marriage, that Megan was having an affair, that her shrink (Edgar Ramirez) was a twit with questionable professional judgement, that Scott was emotionally abusive, that Anna and Tom are self-centered spoiled yuppies, and almost that everyone in the movie is so damn insufferable that it’s almost impossible to give a rat’s ass about any of them.
Which is really a shame, since a story about three modern women trying to find some degree of agency and escape their stifling lives who are undone by their desires would have made for a compelling theme; instead, we get a half-assed dissertation on the do’s and do nots of gaslighting.
It’s too bad Riley isn’t the center of the story; Janney is the big standout of the show, and a movie about her character seeing through the bulls–t under these people’s supposedly idyllic suburban lives would have made for a far more interesting story. Instead, director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson eliminate two of the three suspects in short order, and then hammer us for the remaining hour or so with thinly drawn and increasingly grating characters and heavy-handed exposition. Cheap and exploitive, “The Girl on the Train” force-feeds its plot with impunity.