To say that “The Girl on the Train” is better than “Gone Girl” doesn’t say much, because the movie adaptation of “Gone Girl” was simply ridiculous. “The Girl on the Train” is not simply ridiculous; it’s slightly ridiculous, but it also has Emily Blunt in it, and she is so good that we stay with her through the film’s cheesiest and most obvious moments. Plus, Allison Janney shows up to rake everyone over the coals, and that improves any film.
Like that other dark, sexy thriller that calls a woman a girl, this movie leads us down several twisty roads in the hands of a series of unreliable narrators. Rachel (Blunt) rides a commuter train into Manhattan every day, and is obsessed with a pretty stranger and her seemingly perfect life as it flashes by.
We learn that the stranger doesn’t just live in an undeniably fabulous house; it’s two doors down from Rachel’s old house, where her ex-husband now lives with his new wife, for whom he left Rachel. She can’t stop staring at the block and the life from which she was evicted.
Rachel is a particularly unreliable narrator because, ever since she and her husband failed to conceive and her marriage hit the skids, she has been a blackout drunk. So when her obsessive staring at the unknown woman, whose name is Megan, leads her to witness the woman kissing another man, and when that woman subsequently goes missing, unanswerable questions arise.
This is a well-made melodrama that would have been unwatchable if not for Emily Blunt. It also would have been a lot better if someone more memorable had played the role of Megan. She becomes the pin that ties all the characters together, but actress Haley Bennett is a sexy cipher in what should be an important role.
Many of the film’s characters carry out many of the film’s key actions in the name of sex, more often than not in pursuit of having it with Megan. While sexuality can certainly be a nuanced, vital element of a character, it’s pretty straightforward and not terribly interesting in “The Girl on the Train.” And as the object of desire, Bennett barely registers beyond a taut physique.
If you haven’t read the book and don’t know all the plot twists, “The Girl on the Train” is an exciting, watchable excursion into a world of booze, murder and gaslighting, and at least it has a female lead. It also has the most sinister discussion of breastfeeding I have ever seen, and, as two of the women discussed the benefits of working motherhood versus staying at home, we veered into a trenchant if brief debate of interesting issues.
Soon, however, most of the characters resumed copulating in the shower, further driving home the not undesirable resemblances to “Fatal Attraction.” It’s not as good as that, mind you, but Emily Blunt brings some brains along for the ride.
“The Girl on the Train” is currently available to rent.