The Girl on the Train (***) has a familiar track

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The Girl on the Train – 2016

Director Tate Taylor
Screenplay Erin Cressida Wilson based on the novel by Paula Hawkins
Starring  Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Édgar Ramírez, Lisa Kudrow

The Girl on the Train is a movie that feels like it probably was quite well enjoyed by all of the stellar cast that volunteered to be in the film. It’s filled with more than a few choice roles for women – even Phoebe from Friends has a pivotal role. That their enjoyment does not translate to a greater success is a shame.

Emily Blunt has the choicest role, though, as Rachel Watson. Rachel is a sleepy dreamer, who has created a fantasy about a married couple that she sees on her daily train rides to and from New York City. By the first time we see her, she’s already created several scenarios for who this beautiful woman (Bennett) is, what she does and who she loves. Upon closer examination, we are fed bits and pieces of who Rachel is, who the object of her fantastic vision is, and who that seemingly happy couple is living two doors down are that hired the woman as a nanny. The couple consists of her ex-husband, Tom (Theroux) and his lovely new wife Anna (Ferguson). They got together before Rachel and Tom divorced.

The movie goes through great pains to show us how messed up Rachel appears to be. She is an alcoholic, and that is among her better traits. She is a creeper, with seemingly no connection to reality. She stalks her ex-husband’s family, even going so far as to take their child outside once, if only just to hold for a while.

The story jumps around. Going from time forward to the past with assorted flashbacks in between. We get to know more about the other characters. Megan is the girl who Rachel has been watching from the train. Saying she has issues is an understatement. She’s even seeing a psychologist. Anna, she seems very sleepy a lot of the time. What is going on with her?

The problems of each of these women seem to intersect nicely with Rachel’s erratic behavior. Then Megan disappears.

Watching this story, it is easy to connect the dots when one considers there is not one image that the director does not intend for us to see. It becomes a contest of wills to see how much one can force oneself to enjoy the film for the performances, which are all more than adequate to push us through one labored scene to the next.

Blunt is the clear standout, as she commits herself so completely to the role, she is almost hard to watch. She is clearly physically and emotionally ill. She has horrible blotchy skin and her breath is almost visible.

Bennett is equally good. Her intensity and motivation perfectly matches her character’s history. She is recognizable in the most painful way. She’s one that could make all men nervous and attracted at once, without ever really being seen by them. Bennett could parlay this and Magnificent 7 into quite a career, if she picks the right parts.

Ramírez has a choice role as Megan’s psychologist. His character and performance cuts beyond what one would picture of a therapist that looks like he does.

Ferguson’s character seems like it was a bit underserved by the story. Anna is played with a seeming reservoir of emotions being unearthed by the unfolding events. Where she ends up just seems like it’s short of the character and actresses potential.

The rest of the cast is pretty much what one could expect from a movie like this. None of it is all that bad, but every bit of it is foreshadowed enough to take the steam out of the mystery.

Taylor was an overachiever in his early directing efforts. This time around, he does very little to distinguish himself as anything more than an average director. There is nothing here that exceeds the grasp of someone directing a Lifetime drama. He is capable of way more.

(*** out of *****)

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