The Girl on the Train is more successful as a public service announcement about the dangers of binge drinking than as a gripping, twisty mystery.
If only this could have been a one-woman show for Emily Blunt, because everything else around her fails in director Tate Taylor’s underwhelming adaptation (*½ out of four; rated R; in theaters nationwide Friday) of the popular Paula Hawkins novel. The major whodunit here is who made a best-selling thriller so darn boring.
Rachel Watson (Blunt) is a troubled divorcée and struggling alcoholic who spends her days coming and going from Manhattan on the train, mainly for the view. At one stop along the way, she obsessively watches seemingly perfect young couple Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans), yet avoids the home two doors down — the one she used to share with her ex Tom (Justin Theroux) that now houses his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).
Little time is spent fleshing out Rachel’s personality early on; she’s mainly seen mainlining vodka out of a large water bottle while the film focuses on the other two women and their Lifetime-ready suburban melodrama. Anna is a devoted supermom who’s bothered by Rachel’s mere existence — and the fact that she’s constantly calling and hanging up — while Megan is tired of being a wife and shares her deepest secrets not with the oversexed Scott but with her therapist Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez).
But their stories aren’t told in order, and the narrative shifts between various points of view when Megan goes missing. It’s particularly worrisome for Rachel, who suspects she might be involved somehow after waking up from a blackout covered in blood and unable to remember what happened.
Blunt is completely up for the task of playing a woman who downs her troubles in drink, and she’s at her unhinged best when her puffy-cheeked, maniacal Rachel lashes out at her lot in life.
But Girl’s biggest problem is letting her down when digging into what messed her up so badly psychologically. While it’s touched upon, the adapted screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson dilutes the hows and whys of her depression that Hawkins nailed in her novel, thereby missing a vital connection with the audience. Instead, it’s more concerned with ratcheting up the tension as it steams toward the not-that-surprising finale.
Though the revelations are somewhat satisfying when they come, the narrative until then is a dull slog. The appointments between Megan and her psychiatrist are complete snoozefests (the later meetings with Rachel and Abdic are only slightly more interesting), and the investigation of Megan’s death is mostly relegated to Rachel reading news stories on her fellow subway passengers’ tablets. (Allison Janney at least is game as a hard-nosed detective who’s skeptical of pretty much anything that comes out of Rachel’s mouth.)
Evans' and Theroux’s characters lack dimension and consistent motivations, so the movie hinges on its women, a complicated bunch. None of them are like the other yet they all share, in their own ways, yearning for a happiness they can’t have.
The actresses, especially Blunt, do their part though ultimately can’t escape this trainwreck.