' Cinema Romantico: Girl on the Train

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Girl on the Train

Justin Theroux did it. As in, at the end of “Girl on the Train’s” murder mystery maze, Justin Theroux’s character, a two-timing husband who we know is up to no good from the moment he enters with a bouquet as a floral means to fool us into thinking he’s a good guy, is revealed as the man responsible for the disappearance and subsequent death of a young woman who goes missing. If you think this review has now ruined the viewing experience for you, rest assured that “Girl on the Train” will so swiftly and soundly put you to sleep that you will still be comatose by the time of Theroux’s character’s comeuppance when a corkscrew is twisted into his neck. Not merely stuck in his neck, mind you, but stuck and then twisted, like his head is a bottle of burgundy. (Come to think of it, Theroux’s head would probably be a bottle of cheap merlot.) And if it sounds grisly, it’s actually rather restrained, an odd stylistic choice akin to the stylistic choices hampering the film throughout, where director Tate Taylor doesn’t want to make you stand up and cheer “Yeah, kill the bastard!” but sit there quietly and ruminate. What?! This, for reasons that make no sense, is a movie (I’m leaving the book by Paula Hawkins, which I have not read, on which the film is based out of it) comprised of trash from the compactor in “Star Wars” that Taylor strains to dress up in “Gone Girl”-ish art house sheen, just without the Trent Reznor score to let you know the whole thing is a joke.


“Girl on the Train” initially suggests a deep dive into voyeurism, with Rachel Wilson (Emily Blunt), the titular character, peeping from the railcar windows at the house where she used to live with Tom (Theroux), who now lives there with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), with whom he cheated while still married to Rachel, and at the house down the block where Tom and Anna’s nanny, Megan (Haley Bennett), resides. Megan eventually goes missing the same night she seems to have encountered Rachel, and when Megan turns up dead, Rachel is fingered as the suspect by Detective Riley (Allison Janney). The problem, however, is that Blunt shades her performance with more sympathy than suspicion.

There is an early moment, in fact, when Rachel drunkenly spills her sob story to some random acquaintance (Cleta Elaine Ellington) at an oyster bar and then the two of them wind up in a bathroom smearing lipstick on the mirror. This should be, a la the aforementioned twisting corkscrew, a moment of high camp, making us take a step back and think, “Damn, this woman is capable of anything.” But Blunt wrings so much sadness out of the sequence that, frankly, you just want to give her a hug. By playing the part this way, she never comes across capable of murder, which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if this was a character piece, trying to truly get to the bottom of what ails Rachel, which is I think what Blunt thought she was supposed to be doing, instead of a thriller wrapped up in a whodunit that flashes backward and flashes forward and alternates points-of-view in a woebegone attempt to throw us off the trail. Alas, we can tell she didn’t do it, and we can tell who did, and so then, like, what are we doing here, man?

The only person who genuinely grasps what movie she’s in, or should be in, is Allison Janney. She’s actually less stern here than she was in “Spy”, which was a comedy, playing virtually every moment with just the smallest of smiles and an amusedly puzzled voice. In her inquiries with Blunt, Janney exudes the air of someone who doesn’t merely know that Blunt’s character is lying, but as someone who already knows everything that’s happened, like a principal already firmly aware of a student’s guilt that is just waiting for the student to stop trying to evade and come clean. Janney’s read this book; she’s seen this movie; she knows how it ends. You keep waiting for her to break the fourth wall and say “Seriously, you don’t have to finish this.” I wish she would have because I might have listened.

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