I felt such an affinity for Rachel, the main character in The Girl on a Train, that it was easy for me to love Paula Hawkins’ novel. Partly, it’s because I’ve woken up with a hangover more times than I’d care to admit with an instinct to immediately check my email, text, and call history to see if I need to apologizing to anyone. But, just as important, I love people watching and especially enjoy speculating about the lives of strangers.
So Rachel (played in the film by Emily Blunt) wakes up from a night of drinking to find that her favourite stranger to watch (Haley Bennett) has gone missing and she may have seen something that could help find her. If only she can remember what it is. As the story unfolds, her behavior is frequently frustrating and not always easy to empathize with but I’d be lying if I said that she didn’t feel completely real to me. A great protagonist is really all you need to make even the simplest murder mystery seem gripping and, told from Rachel’s point of view, I found this one nearly impossible to put down.
The best film adaptations are able to identify what worked best from their source material and build a story around those elements that suits the medium. Because the film version of The Girl on the Train is a shitty adaptation, director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson try to pack in as many of the events of the book as possible without seeming to give any thought to how well the structure would play on screen. Neither seem interested in Rachel’s state of mind.
These may seem like the typical “the book was better” complaints but I can’t imagine the movie would impress anyone who hasn’t read the book either. Considering the popularity of the novel, the roll that Emily Blunt has been on lately, and the fact that just two movies ago Tate Taylor directed a Best Picture nominee (The Help), The Girl on the Train feels surprisingly TV-movieish. For a book that was marketed as an edge-of-your-seat thriller, its film is curiously boring, talky, and whiny.
The good news, as you may have heard, is that Blunt is terrific. She makes Rachel a lot easier to sympathize with even when her actions risk making her unlikeable. She plays the various levels of drunkenness quite well. But her efforts are wasted in a boring, lazily structured movie.