Since early 2015, we’ve been hearing about The Girl on the Train almost nonstop. First, everyone was reading the bestseller by Paula Hawkins; then we all started anticipating the film starring Emily Blunt, which officially opens in theaters today.
Reviews by Roger Ebert and the New York Times are mixed—condemning its lack of cinematic finesse but also acknowledging an inherent intrigue. The Times reviewer even likened it to a Shonda Rhimes show at its “crazed best.” Whatever the case, fans are on track to show this film some love.
Reports say the thriller brought in $1.2 million from early-evening Thursday showings, and it is expected to soar this weekend among other releases such as The Birth of a Nation. By the sound of both, you probably can’t go wrong with whichever film you watch this weekend, but I have to say The Girl on the Train blew my expectations out of the water. Here are the biggest takeaways from my ride on the train.
Emily Blunt, WHAAAT?
This should actually come as no surprise to anyone who has seen Emily Blunt act before, but she will blow you away in this film. Her acting range is now beyond question. Blunt has delivered in comedies such as The Devil Wears Prada and Sunshine Cleaning, soared in the period drama Young Victoria, and convincingly kicks butt in the sci-fi action films The Adjustment Bureau and Edge of Tomorrow. In The Girl on the Train, Blunt adds the psychological thriller genre to her list of amazing performances. (Think her acting range couldn’t be stretched even more? She’s playing Mary Poppins in 2018.)
Blunt recently stated that Rachel, the character she plays, is “unlikable,” and she’s OK with that. In The Girl on the Train, Blunt gets ugly. Maybe not quite as Monster-level-ugly as Charlize Theron in her 2003 film, but they share something similar. They reflect the lows to which a person can sink when mistreated by others—yes, even the depravity that could lead someone to kill another person.
It’s Better Than Gone Girl
Yes, I said it. Everyone’s been billing The Girl on the Train as this year’s Gone Girl. With all due respect to the 2014 film, this is a step above. Yes, they’re both suspenseful novels-turned-films; yes, they both have “girl” in the title; yes, they both have leading female characters who have mental health issues—but the similarities stop there. I found the film to be better than Gone Girl because in addition to being a thrill ride of a story, it makes a powerful point. It provokes the viewer to think more deeply about something that actually matters in the real world. In other words, it doesn’t just end with the viewer’s head spinning and thinking, “That b---h is CRAZY!” The Girl on the Train does something much more powerful than that, and as a woman I couldn’t have been more thrilled to see it.
The Women Are Complex—You Know, Like Real Women
In the early minutes of The Girl on the Train, viewers are introduced to the three main women whose stories intertwine. Rachel (Blunt) is an alcoholic who can’t remember what she does during her blackouts. Megan (Haley Bennett) is a beautiful woman whom Rachel sees from her train rides and likes to imagine has a perfect life and marriage, although in reality Megan lives in a state of numbness that she escapes from with promiscuous behavior. Anna (Rebecca Ferguson, who you might recognize as Dinah from the TV series The Red Tent) is a wife who now embraces a quiet and wholesome life as a stay-at-home mom but started her marriage as “the other woman.” It would be easy to cast any of these characters as one-dimensional—the psycho, the nymphomaniac, the perfect Madonna figure—but this story avoids the stereotypes that are so common in other Hollywood films. Megan, as we find out, isn’t just a promiscuous, heartless marriage-destroyer; she is a human being and has a deep sadness that she tries to cover up with compulsive sexual behavior.
The Antagonists Aren’t Sci-Fi or Fantasy—They’re Real, Too
Another great thing about this film is how realistically it showcases the societal ills of emotional and physical abuse. When one character says in a therapy session that the man in her life is controlling and possessive, the therapist immediately identifies the behavior as “emotionally abusive.” “Not if you don’t care about it,” she coolly replies, “and I don’t.” The therapist’s sober response reminds her: It may be that emotionally abusive behavior has become “a normal state for you,” but it is no less abusive. In addition, the whole of the film carries a message of how severe the damage can be on a human person who has experienced repeated emotional and physical abuse.
The story of The Girl on the Train carries many more thought-provoking insights; I haven’t even gotten to another powerful theme in the film on the complex relationship of a woman with her fertility and children. Or the power of women when they build each other up instead of automatically viewing each other as competitors for a man. Possibly the most powerful takeaway from the film, for me, was the notion that just because a person is a victim doesn’t make her a story’s loser. If The Girl on the Train tells us anything, it’s that when you do your best and try to live honestly, even with your faults, you can come out from the journey all the better.
“I am not the girl I used to be,” Rachel says at the end of the film. If you catch this great performance by Blunt this weekend, you just might find yourself feeling the same way.
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures