“The Girl on the Train” was box office gold last weekend, but it is hard to see why. The movie is so confusing to follow, it makes keeping track of the names in Russian literature seem easy. What is perfectly clear is that everyone is miserable, but in a sexy, film noir, stylish way.
Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson plucks the mousy brown protagonist, Rachel (Emily Blunt), from the British rail in the book, to the tracks of the Metro-North Railroad in New York. Rachel is a sad sack, par excellence, who elicits little empathy. In the opening scene, Rachel sits backwards on a train, foggily sketching in a notebook. She is usually snookered, because she likes to sip alcoholic beverage out of a plastic commuter cup. Haunted by loss, despair and self-loathing, she watches the world go by during her commute to nowhere. (She was fired from her job and pretends to go to work.) In the haze of houses and landscapes, Rachel notices a man and a woman at one of the homes and longs for their glamorous life. The sexy pair, Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett) flaunts their lust and affection in full view of voyeuristic train passengers, especially Rachel. The two adults don’t seem to mind being in full view of train traffic. They get it on in the upstairs bedroom. They snuggle in front of a fire pit in the backyard. They kanoodle over glasses of wine on their porch. (Of course this is unrealistic, as trains go by too fast to see anything in much detail.) Eagle-eyed Rachel is drawn into their wonderful world. Little does she know, Megan is going through her own personal hell.
Coincidentally, the Hipwells share the same upscale neighborhood with Rachel’s ex-husband, his wife Anna and their baby. (Anna is Tom’s ex-mistress with whom he cheated on while married to Rachel. The Rebecca Ferguson plays her.) Justin Theroux plays Tom with a sleazy, oily creepiness, not exhibited by book’s character. One of the most unrealistic scenes occurs when he hires the breathtakingly lovely blonde (and promiscuous) Megan, to help at home. (This is easier to believe in the book, since we do not see Megan.) Anna, who is also blonde, does not have a job, but for some reason needs someone to assist with baby Evie. (Viewers will have a tough time keeping the characters straight.) When Megan suddenly quits for another job, Anna is upset, not realizing this is probably a good thing. Most women want a nanny who looks like Nanny McPhee, not Scarlett Johansson. Anna gripes that she won’t be able to go to the farmer’s market, a first world problem if there ever was one. How can she watch a baby while she shops for organic produce and grass fed beef? After a tiff with Megan, she apologizes to get her back, to no avail. Anna feels sorry for herself and the self-loathing stars percolating. In bed that night, she is depressed and turns away from Tom. It was much more fun being the other woman.
The next day, Rachel’s commuter fantasy is shattered when she spots Megan with another man. Megan kisses him in full view of a train whizzing by, comprised of neighborhood Hastings-On-Hudson passengers. The fact that her husband could be one of them is not a concern, apparently. Rachel feels betrayed, just as she did when Tom left her for Anna. She is raging and she is not going to take it anymore. When Megan goes missing the next day, Rachel takes it upon herself to get involved. She feels empowered. Her train wreck of a life finally has purpose! She sets off a series of investigations, accusations, mistaken identities and misunderstandings under the guise of being helpful. No one believes her because she is inebriated most of the time.
Many things happen in this movie, and it is a spinning, confusing kaleidoscope of action, pretty scenery, beautiful people and intense dialogue. To the movie’s credit, the story is a tough one to tell, given the complexities of the book, but the direction, cinematography and the acting are superb. Blunt is spot on with her melancholy, inebriated Rachel. Other characters include a red-haired man, who looks like Louis C.K. (if only!), Rachel’s roommate; and Martha, played in a cameo role by Lisa Kudrow. Allison Janney portrays a hard-boiled detective and Edgar Ramirez is a sympathetic psychiatrist. Facebook, not cited in the novel, becomes a character of sorts as cuckholded spouses try to unlock passwords to spot posts from lovers and other indiscretions. The movie’s finale is gory and the scene will live on in camp history. (I, for one, will never look at a corkscrew the same way again.) Finally, in the last scene, Rachel is back on the train, presumably commuting to a new job in the city. Looking sober, happy and refreshed, she sits facing forward this time. She says she is not the girl she used to be.
We’ve always been taught to mind our Ps and Qs. Oddly, being a busybody eventually puts Rachel on the right track to fulfillment, an incredible outcome, given her history and the trauma she experienced. Most of us would have gone completely off the rails.