Rachel (Emily Blunt), the titular character in The Girl on the Train, rides everyday past the houses of Megan (Haley Bennett) and Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and daydreams about the life of Megan and her husband while trying to avoid looking at the house of Anna and her husband. We know all this from watching the opening scene of the movie, but just in case what we see in this opening scene isn’t enough to get this across to the audience, we also hear the voice of Rachel explaining exactly what it is she’s doing and every single feeling she’s having about doing it. We then get to see scenes where people talk about their lives and feelings to their therapists, and to the police, and to their husbands, and their roommates, and voice-overs explaining exactly what we’re watching them do, in fact it’s about two thirds of the way through The Girl on the Train before we see that this movie is a thriller and a mystery and not just a movie about people explaining what we’re watching and exactly how they feel about that.
Even once we figure out what type of film we’re watching, we already have it all figured out. For most of the running time I thought The Girl on the Train was just a very poorly written thriller, but after a certain event let me know that what I was watching was actually a mystery, I figured out at the exact same moment who the villain of the story was, because all the hamfisted exposition up to this point made it that obvious. I have never read the novel The Girl on the Train, but I have to hope the writing in it was not this amateurish, as every single bit of writing in the film version ignores everything that can make dialogue exciting, exposition creative, and plotting intense.
While the writing is most certainly the most egregious element in The Girl on the Train, the acting is also an area of deficiency. Emily Blunt does a decent job with her role considering what little she was given to work with, though even she has a tendency throughout much of the film to overact and give a hackneyed portrayal of Rachel, and Allison Janney makes the most of her little on screen time. Every other actor in the film however, gives us an awkward, uninspired, and amateurish performance, whether that due to being unable to show any emotion at all or going so far over the top it’s clownish.
The cinematography in The Girl on the Train is proficient enough, but we still have the problem with lack of creativity. Most of the time the camera is concerned with obscuring what exactly is going on so as to best create mystery in the worst possible way. When it isn’t hiding which characters we are looking at or places they’re inhabiting, it’s making sure to catch all those pretty faces in the best lights and angles possible. Whenever there is some trick pulled with our perspective, not only is it always a trick we’ve seen before, but it’s so telegraphed that it’s quite obvious the director wanted to make absolutely one hundred percent sure that we didn’t miss his moment of ingenuity.
The crux of all the myriad problems in The Girl on the Train really comes down to the fact that the creators of the film are trying to stretch out 15 minutes of actual story into an almost 2 hour run time, and very few of those involved were talented enough to do so even if this was a good idea. There isn’t much story, so the script has to focus on character, the characters aren’t very deep, so they have to talk a lot, and since there isn’t much to talk about they drone on about themselves in the most angst ridden middle school way possible, if angst ridden middle schoolers were alcoholics and serial cheaters that is.
Needless to say, The Girl on the Train is a film I recommend to very, very few. There is a niche audience of self-loathing, but also man hating, women out there who will like it on some level as a form of fantasy and wish fulfillment, but I really can’t see that there would be many others who would enjoy this as anything other than an exercise in exactly how not to write a screenplay. It tries for thrills, depth, import, and even pretentiousness and it manages to fail on every single level. There are many better things you can do with 112 minutes without even trying.
Rating: 3.0 out of 10