Monday, October 17, 2016

The Girl on the Train (2016)

The Girl on the Train is told from the point of view of an alcoholic who has blackouts. That's Rachel (Emily Blunt), whose life is shattered in a number of ways. The plot point partly accounts for the confusion in the way this story unfolds, but I think most of the responsibility actually goes to the script, which spends the first half of the picture hiding information and not telling us enough. It might help if you like, or even know, the novel by Paula Hawkins, which I don't. As an unknown quantity for me, with no preparation, it was all quite mysterious, with Rachel's strange obsession with a house she sees on her daily train rides. As it turns out, she knows that neighborhood and those people very well. Things happen and they are confusing and Rachel is usually drunk. There are babies and girlfriends, there are woods and rain, there is a walking tunnel in a park near the train station and Rachel is usually drunk. It goes along like this for some time. The scenes juggle a few different time streams, details come to us by happenstance, and Rachel, yes, is usually drunk. In due time (yo spoiler), we come to find it's basically a Gaslight story—Gaslight, the movie so good they made it twice (in 1940 in the UK and then in 1944 in Hollywood), the movie that resonated so much we adapted it as a figure of speech. There's some good to be found in The Girl on the Train. For one thing, I remembered both those Gaslight movies are well worth tracking down and seeing. This movie from early in the prestige season of 2016, well, not so much. It's not all bad, and some is good. Emily Blunt carries her load admirably with a bravura performance of a person barely functioning. Allison Janney in a small role as a police detective is just about perfect, and I liked seeing Lisa Kudrow in another small role too. And I think if you strain at it hard enough, the project might even have something of a positive message about empowerment, even through all the grim trappings. But the grim trappings, the somber mood and lumbering tones, are mostly what The Girl on the Train seems to be about. Director Tate Taylor has made at least a couple of movies I liked in spite of various flaws—Winter's Bone and The Help. In this one the flaws come away with the win, sorry to say. If you like rolling your eyes a lot, this is just the ticket.

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