The Girl on the Train (2016) is a simple mystery movie based on a book by the same name, both centering on the lives and extramarital affairs of three women and two men in Westchester County, New York. Rachael, (one of the aforementioned women) a divorced and lonely alcoholic, fantasizes about a gorgeous couple she sees while riding the train every day. The woman of that fantasy couple, Megan Hipwell, ends up missing. Amid her drunken blackouts and emotional frailties, Rachael ends up caught in a web of lies and illicit affairs as she struggles to find out the truth of Megan's disappearance.
The casting of the film is quite good. The film’s standout performance is given by Emily Blunt as Rachael Watson. As mentioned, Rachael lives a sad, depressing existence as a divorced alcoholic. Blunt’s makeup and wardrobe artists deserve particular kudos here for making Blunt look as dreary and troubled as her method acting suggests. Haley Bennett plays Megan Hipwell, the aimless, overly sexualized catalyst behind the regrettable events that start to unravel the lives of everyone in our story. Rebecca Ferguson plays Anna Watson, Tom Watson’s (Justin Theroux) current wife. Anna was once ‘the other woman’, to Tom’s previous marriage, but is now a fully domesticated housewife who dutifully takes care of their child, blissfully unaware of her husband’s new dalliances. The rest of the film’s main cast is rounded out by several handsome men, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, and Edgar Ramirez, who may or may not be having affairs.
The Girl on the Train is poorly paced and narratively weak. Much of the film is spent simply examining Rachael's broken psyche of Rachael or delving into flashbacks of Megan with her therapist (Edgar Ramirez). Thus its pacing is glacial as we watch Rachael’s feeble attempts to overcome her alcoholism and figure out what happened to Megan Hipwell. This is mitigated somewhat by Blunt’s outstanding performance, but even she can’t carry this dull film on her own. In addition, despite the film focusing almost exclusively on these couples, most of the characters have no depth.
The Girl on the Train lives and dies on its mystery, which is unfortunately not that compelling and not very difficult to solve. I figured out the ‘whodunnit’ halfway through the film and there was still another hour of teasing to go before the film made its grand revelation. The film is a pale Gone Girl imitation with less good…well...everything. Gone Girl was a three-hour murder mystery-thriller with excellent social commentary on contemporary marriage and sensationalistic tabloid media, with a compelling and innovative narrative to boot. The Girl on the Train, by comparison, is forty minutes shorter but feels two hours longer. It also lacks the intelligent examinations of its predecessor (Gone Girl) and instead has some rather backward views on women's sexuality. I'll explain.
In this film, each woman revolves around the men in her life. Each woman’s importance to the men in her life is tied to how attractive she is and, even worse, whether or not she can have children. The two primary men in the film, Tom Watson and Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans), both want families with their respective wives. Tom leaves Rachael before the beginning of the film ostensibly because she drinks heavily, but she drinks heavily because they couldn’t have children. Tom is married to and has a child with Anna Watson by the time the film starts. Rachael’s existence is simply defined by the life she could not have (i.e. children). So she drinks heavily all day and dreams of living in her house with Tom and a family. She even once broke into Tom and Anna’s home and almost kidnapped their newborn in a severely intoxicated state. Anna, meanwhile, is now firmly entrenched as a proper mother. She wears large, frumpy sweaters, stays at home, and is never more than a couple feet away from her child. She has so muted her sexuality since having children that her sex life is listless and dreary. She even tells her husband, Tom, that she actually misses being the other woman.
Megan lives a lascivious, aimless existence because, you guessed it, she suffered a traumatic experience involving a child early in her life and is afraid of becoming a mother. She bitterly resents the suburban life that seems to have destined to her to become a housewife and mother. Megan’s husband Scott Hipwell, like Tom, also wants to have children. He is shown to be abusive and aggressive when confronting her on the subject of having children and about her lovers. Nevertheless, Megan eventually acquiesces and accepts that she can be a good mother. However, she is soon brutally denied this opportunity. Instead of being actual people, the women of The Girl on the Train are merely objects of desire and baby factories that lose their importance the minute they can’t or won’t reproduce when a man wants them too.
END OF SPOILERS
The Girl on the Train is a mystery thriller that tries to be a good Gone Girl clone but utterly fails. It's a murder mystery without much mystery and a dramatic thriller that is long and boring. Despite the cast being pretty solid, the characters are given little depth outside of Rachel and Megan. Even worse, the female protagonists’ varying depths of character are specifically tied to whether or not they can reproduce for men. This backward view of women in a movie that is made for and primarily advertised to women is the final nail in the coffin for The Girl on the Train. If you’re a fan of the book, go see the movie. Otherwise, this film is one you can skip.
TLDR: The Girl on the Train is a long cheap Gone Girl knockoff in every way that’s held together by the impressive performance of Emily Blunt. 2/5 Stars.