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The Girl on the Train

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jan 17, 2017
The Girl on the Train

Tate Taylor, the director of the 2011 sensation "The Help" and 2014's James Brown biopic "Get On Up," takes a run at a tough subgenre that's best defined, at the moment, by "Gone Girl." However, "The Girl on the Train" misses the mark; retaining the novel's three points of view and Celtic knot plotting structure, the film doesn't draw tight so much as unravel late in the game and turn into a slack mess.

Even explaining the story takes some doing, but here goes: Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a drunk divorcee who takes solace in the lives she imagines from her seat aboard a commuter train. As she rides every day back and forth between her home and New York City, Rachel fixates on a beautiful blond woman we eventually learn is called Megan (Haley Bennett). In part, Rachel is drawn to Megan because she lives in the same neighborhood Rachel used to live in herself, before her divorce from Tom (Justin Theroux); but Rachel's fascination is also based on the life she imagines Megan lives together with her doting husband, Scott (Luke Evans).

Rachel's obsession with other people's relationships and marriages falls a little short of evangelical levels of creepy intrusiveness, but still hovers in the stalkerish zone. It's with considerable emotional investment that Rachel catches fleeting glimpses of Scott and Megan holding hands by a fire pit or making out in their bedroom. When Rachel spots Megan kissing another man on the second-level porch one morning, she's so shocked and dismayed that she practically has a breakdown over it. Then Megan goes missing. Did her husband catch on to an affair? Did Megan's beau prove to be a psycho? Or did the pair of them simply elope?

As the mystery deepens, Rachel finds herself a person of interest to a tough police detective (Allison Janney), and even starts to worry that she's stating to recall incriminating memories from one of her blackout binges. Complicating matters is the fact that Megan was, until recently, in the employ of Tom and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), working as a nanny. Given that Rachel has a habit of drunkenly wandering into Tom and Anna's home unannounced, could she somehow have gotten herself mixed up in whatever's going on?

The film switches between Rachel's point of view and those of Megan and Anna, but we mostly stay with Rachel. When we do depart to spend time with the other women, we learn that their lives -- as lovely as they may look to outsiders -- are as fraught and flawed as anyone else's (if not considerably more so). Omnipresent, however, is the simple biological imperative of motherhood: Who is, who isn't, who wants to be, and who doesn't want to be looking after a brood? Judgements about maternal fitness and sexual attractiveness leach into the story. This is a tale told from multiple female perspectives, but in a strange and off-putting way it's still deeply marked by the male gaze.

The Blu-ray release comes complete with two short featureless -- "The Women Behind 'The Girl' " and "On Board 'The Train' " -- as well as deleted and extended scenes and a commentary track narrated by Tate Taylor, who discusses the production in depth. (One fascinating bit involves Blunt's makeup, which was calibrated to four distinct levels of blotto.)

This thriller was not critically loved in theaters, but it does offer its share of twists, chills, shocks, and guesswork. After the fact, you might look back on it without great fondness -- but for a couple of hours it does more or less keep you involved, thanks in large part to Blunt's acting.


"The Girl on the Train"
Blu-ray
$34.90
https://www.uphe.com/movies/the-girl-on-the-train

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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