The Girl on the Train (2016)

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The Girl on the Train is the silliest movie I’ve seen all year.

I also, in a very strange way, really enjoyed it. It was a campy, ridiculously overblown and often very pompous mess of a film, and for that, it is truly very enjoyable. To be honest, I really doubt any of us really expected the height of great cinema in this film, and at times, it seemed to be capitalizing on the same audience that devoured Gone Girl (and precursors like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct). The Girl on the Train is not a good film – but it most certainly is not a bad film, and it was one of the more interesting cinematic experiences. I can’t deny that I didn’t love it, but it was more a guilty kind of love, like eating an entire cake for dinner. You don’t know why, but you really enjoyed it, and you know you’re not supposed to, but it just seems like something you need to do. That is exactly what watching The Girl on the Train is like – eating an entire cake. I really do not regret that analogy.

The Girl on the Train is about Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) a British woman living in New York City (I will just point out that the novel this film is based on is set in London – and four of the six leads are non-American, yet they are apparently playing American characters). For some reason, New York is a better place for crime and murder than London, which is simply not creepy enough it seems. Rachel is an alcoholic, and she commutes to the city daily, passing by a house where she carefully watches over a loving couple (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett) – and when she discovers that the woman is having an affair, Rachel is plunged deep into a conspiracy that includes murder, deceit and stealing babies from their homes and then subsequently dropping them on the floor and running away. There is so much more to The Girl on the Train, but to explain all the twists and turns would deprive people of the joy that comes with this convoluted mess, and I believe everyone should experience this utterly absurd film.

I didn’t hate The Girl on the Train – it was far too charming in the fact that it took itself so seriously to even vaguely dislike. Even the most notable flaws were compounded by the fact that this film is so humourless and so badly wants to be the next huge “intelligent” thriller, it actually is unintentionally hilarious at times, and there isn’t anything funnier than a film that takes itself so seriously to the point where it actually is hilarious beyond compare (for the Holy Grail of this concept, please do yourselves a favour and seek out the greatest film of the 21st century, Tommy Wiseau’s incredible The Room) – and while it will be easy to just review The Girl on the Train as the dramatic thriller it attempts to be, I would much rather prefer to just discuss how utterly silly it is – and my reason is simple…it is just far more fun.

There is so much unintentional comedy hiding in this film – for example, in the book, one of the major character, the psychiatrist Dr. Kamal Abdic is Pakistani. Now apparently, they are perfectly alright moving the film’s setting to New York City, which seemingly used up all the time and budget, because they cast Édgar Ramírez in the role. Now your eyes do not deceive you – that name is indeed of Hispanic origin, much like the talented man that bears that very name. Apparently, shifting the entire film’s setting to another continent is not a problem, but either finding a Pakistani actor or at least changing the character’s name to reflect the ethnicity of the actor playing the role is certainly not a priority. This isn’t even the biggest problem – the problem is that the seemingly Pakistani doctor begins shouting in Spanish. It is one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever seen, because at that point, I realized that sometimes, there is a way to make absolutely no effort. There are some moments in The Girl on the Train where I felt Tate Taylor was putting a ton of effort into not making any effort at all.

The Girl on the Train is also poorly written, but its that rare kind of bad writing that actually makes it almost artistic. The amount of time wasted on pointless discussions and useless start-and-stop plot points actually is so beautiful. Characters talk about the most bizarre things that don’t contribute to the plot at all, and some interactions are so artificial and unneeded, but they only contribute to the overall silliness of the film. But not only are the verbal interactions very often hilariously bad, there are also moments where characters do things that make me question whether or not this is supposed to be a parody film. This is a film of people constantly dropping (or rather violently throwing down) things – bottles, telephones and babies. If anything, The Girl on the Train is a masterpiece of a mess precisely because of how utterly absurd it is, and I can’t imagine this film’s script was written in the traditional manner – I fully expect to find that Erin Cressida Wilson wrote this film on cocktail napkins and on old takeout menus. It just isn’t the kind of precise, logical and detailed screenwriting that is expected, but it did give me a good laugh or two, and that’s at least a positive sign. Whether or not that was the intention is beyond me.

Now let us get onto the one and only traditionally praise-worthy element of this film – Emily Blunt. Blunt actually makes a real effort here. A genuine, concerted effort to play this absurd character in this silly film. Blunt gave a performance that deserved a far better film. Blunt actually really tried to take this one-dimensional concept and caricature of a human and give it some life and put some genuine effort into it. Blunt is a talented actress, and she frequently gives excellent performances – and in The Girl on the Train, she gets a lot to work with, and she runs the gamut of juicy elements – alcoholism, inner-monologues and my personal favourite – intense facial acting (quivering lips, wide-eyed bewilderment and slight shaking). Blunt actually deserved to be in a much better film, and if anything, The Girl on the Train reminds us that Blunt is a pretty great actress, and she should continue to get great lead roles, but hopefully ones that don’t include the unintentionally hilarious dropping of babies.

Unfortunately, Blunt is the only part of the cast that deserves any praise. The characters in The Girl on the Train are so dull and stereotypical, I can’t even remember their names. I just remember that Luke Evans played Angry Man, and Justin Theroux played Slightly Less Angry (But Far More Murder-y) Angry Man. Édgar Ramírez played Angry Man with PhD Who Screams in Spanish But is Apparently Pakistani. Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson are so similar, both in terms of appearance and in the fact that they both play vapid and mindless women who only revel on their infidelity. I am glad CBS allowed Allison Janney some furlough time to turn in pretty standard “nasty but fair cop” – I just wish someone told Janney that The Girl on the Train isn’t a comedy, because I have a sneaking suspicion that she thought it was.

Also, what was Lisa Kudrow doing in this movie? I have to admire Tate Taylor for hiring Kudrow for such a meaningless little role, just so she can shriek “Hi Rachel!”. There is nothing like convincing a talented comedienne to be in your film for two scenes, just for a lame Friends joke. Still, it made me chuckle – but I’m not sure if that was the intention.

I am rough on The Girl on the Train, but I did enjoy it – it was a messy and convoluted film that didn’t have many redeeming qualities outside of its dedicated lead performance and the fact that it actually is pretty tense in terms of story (but not in terms of the actual storytelling). I did really like it, and it feels like a delightful guilty pleasure. It isn’t close to being as smart as it thinks it is, and rather is just as contrived as these kinds of films go. However, if you are looking for a bit of mind-numbing escapism and perhaps a good laugh or two if you enjoy the tense humour this film has unintentionally unleashed on itself, then I would suggest you give The Girl on the Train a try.

I really enjoyed the ending of this film, where we have the most thrilling conclusion to any intense crime thriller – our protagonist has a major epiphany and makes a huge change in her life – she sits in a different seat on the train, perhaps awaiting her next journey that will include Spanish Pakistanis, corkscrews and droppable babies. Its a journey that we should all strive to go on one day, but alas, not all are as lucky as Rachel Watson.

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