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Meaning in Blurs
Okay, let's do this.
So, it's been a while since I wrote a movie review. My Oscar series was a fun experiment and one of the more gratifying things I've done as a critic, but it left me feeling exhausted about seeing and writing about movies. The one movie I saw in theaters between that series and today was The Witch, which was good, but I didn't have the motive to write about. It's probably why I've turned to writing more about literature in the last few months (reviews such as this, this, and this are good examples of what I've done since, especially since they're all books I want more people to read), just so I can have something else to critique.
In this sabbatical, I picked up a popular book called The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I had a free Sunday, so I ended up reading the entire book cover-to-cover in a local coffee shop. I heard it was likened to Gone Girl, which I quite enjoyed, so I figured it was something I'd get a kick out of. What I found was a book I didn't want to put down as I was reading it (which is why I ended up reading it in one day), but when it was over, I didn't think much about it. The Girl on the Train is a good book, but for a book compared to Gone Girl, it didn't have as much impact. I wasn't thinking about the complexity of the characters, I wasn't thinking about the depth of the story, and I wasn't thinking about the larger scope of what the book means.
The Girl on the Train just ended up being the kind of pulp mystery book you enjoy and then pass aside. I didn't hate it, but it wasn't really great literature and not something I'll think about when the next big mystery novel comes out. Even with this, I still was excited about a film adaptation. It had actors I liked in it, had a promising trailer, and even though I could see some changes from the book, I was still curious to see it. Heck, it was the kind of movie I would have seen with my mom if we weren't geographically apart and burdened by external circumstances. So what did I think of the movie?
I'm not kidding. Literally nothing.
Okay, that's not entirely fair. I did have some reactions as I was watching the movie. I grimaced when I was required to, I felt shock when the story had its turns, and I had some appreciation for some of what was on screen. But as I stepped out of the theater and towards my car, I wasn't thinking about the movie. I wasn't happy or sad or angry. I wasn't thinking about the changes to the story or the missed opportunities. I was thinking about walking to my car.
The Girl on the Train follows three women connected by a crime. The protagonist, Rachel (Emily Blunt), is an alcoholic divorcee whose husband married his mistress, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and kicked her out of their house. She rides the train past their home daily, and starts to project an idealized marriage onto Tom (Justin Theroux) and Anna's neighbors. Megan (Haley Bennett) has everything Rachel wants: a gorgeous home, a loving husband, and the life Rachel had to give up due to her vices and emotional problems.
When Megan goes missing, Rachel finds herself tied in as she saw something that might have a connection to Megan's disappearance. This leads to her spending time with Megan's husband (Luke Evans) while also dealing with Tom and Anna. At the same time, evidence shows that Rachel might have had some hand in the disappearance, causing Rachel to question how in control of her situation she is and if she might have done something terrible in one of her alcohol-induced blackouts.
As I watched The Girl on the Train, I struggled to wonder if having read the book would make the film better or worse. Obviously, I knew all the answers to the central mystery and could focus on the performances and the direction. On the other hand, I had to question how suspenseful and dramatic the story was. I feel people who haven't read the book could be shaken around by the twists and turns. They could suspect Rachel is the culprit, or they could start to think it's Megan's husband or her therapist. But as the film progressed, I realized it almost didn't matter if I had read the book or not.
The Girl on the Train is a fairly faithful adaptation. They do move the location from England to New York and change some of the circumstances behind the reveal, but otherwise it's in line with the book. The problem, I found, was that it didn't do much to play with the story or add anything new. If anything, it took away a lot of the depth the characters in the book had. In the beginning, the film introduces the female leads by giving them all voice over introducing their characters and thoughts, but then loses this for the rest of the film. It reappears at the end when Rachel needs to summarize what she's learned from all of this, but it costs the characters any chance for showing more of their thought processes and playing with how they perceive those around them.
This is not a bad movie. Emily Blunt carries the movie as Rachel, although her sad, puffy drunk eyes and expression got a bit tiring after a while. It's just such an unimportant movie. Not every movie needs to make a grand statement about the human experience, but like the Fifty Shades movie, there's nothing really unique or special here. It's a standard adaptation with a largely unchanged script and some questionable directorial choices (why, oh why, did it have to get slow and blurry at points of characters looking in one direction?) that didn't really dazzle or excite. It's a fine movie if there's nothing else to rent at Redbox, but it's making me question if it was a story that actually needed a film adaptation.