HOW much do you trust yourself when you’re drunk or heartbroken? How much would you trust yourself if you were both? This is the question that Rachel Watson must ask herself in the jarring thriller “The Girl on The Train.” Alcoholic and depressive after a failed marriage, Rachel rides the train to New York every day to a non-existent job, passing by her old neighborhood where she sees a couple that she starts to idealize as having the life she lost.
But one day, Rachel sees the woman with a different man, and the woman disappears. In her damaged state, Rachel finds falling further and further into the mystery even as she battles her alcoholism and seeks to fill in the blanks in her memory.
As the public and police get involved in solving the disappearance, Rachel believes she needs to tell someone, anyone, about what she knows. It’s both an act of bravery and lunacy, one only made possible by the volatile mixture of drink and being dead inside.
Based on the 2015 Paula Hawkins best-selling novel, “Girl” works because it features the wasted and wonderful Emily Blunt as Rachel. Pale, mousy and raccoon-eyed, Blunt presents such a miserable, unlikeable portrait of the alcoholic Rachel that viewers may never want to get wasted ever again. Blunt carries this film, just as Rachel carried the narrative of the best-selling Paula Hawkins novel it’s based on.
The film exchanges the novel’s London setting for New York and director Tate Taylor (2011’s Oscar best picture nominee “The Help”) simplifies the book’s unhinged narrative that is centered on the very idea that Rachel is the most unreliable narrator of all. “Girl” begins with the same unconventional, non-linear narrative as the book, with various characters providing different points of view. But when “Girl” turns into its final act, the narrative locks into a much more conventional and linear direction.
“Girl” offers some genuine surprises; it intentionally stretches out into a spare, clear-eyed reflection on the effect of living the kind of life Rachel is living. The idealized couple Megan (Haley Bennett from 2007’s “Music and Lyrics”) and Scott (“Fast & Furious 6’s” Luke Evans) are, of course, nothing like what they seem from the moving train window. Further complicating things is Rachel’s rocky relationship with her ex-husband Tom (a great turn by Justin Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).
While it would be easy to compare “Girl” with the 2014 David Fincher thriller “Gone Girl” (which is what happened with Hawkins’ novel being compared to Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel), “Girl” plays more like a diluted, domestic “Rashomon,” with context being more important that circumstance, the movie unraveling as Rachel struggles to regain her memory instead of character manipulation. Additionally, “Girl” turns into a study of the flawed nature of modern marriage, both those long finished, dying or still living. If there’s anything “Girl” teaches Rachel and the viewers is that Rachel is wrong: There is no such thing as an ideal marriage—and there are much worse things than a flawed one.
Buoyed by Blunt’s omnipresent and yet obscured Rachel, the film captures viewers’ attention long enough to unspool the onscreen marital fabric and the secrets hiding in plain sight. Emily Blunt’s razor-sharp and wounded performance alone is enough for make one go see “The Girl on the Train,” reminding us that it’s not a bad thing when she says, “I’m not the girl I used to be.”
Universal Pictures’ “The Girl on the Train” is now showing in cinemas.