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The Girl on the Train

October 7, 2016
The Girl on the Train

Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) lives in Westchester, and she hates it. Her husband, Scott (Luke Evans) thinks that if she got pregnant like the other young stay-at-home wives in their town do, she’d be happier, but Megan can barely stand to be around babies. But she takes a job as a nanny for the couple two doors down, at 13 Beckett. Anna Watson (Rebecca Ferguson) lives for her infant daughter, but she seems to want Megan’s help despite having no other job, totally supported by her husband, Tom (Justin Theroux). And watching both of them is Rachel (Emily Blunt), The Girl on the Train.

The houses on Beckett Road back up to the Hudson, but between their backyards and the river run the tracks of the Metro-North Railroad. Twice a day, as Rachel rides into the city and back, she watches out the window to get a glimpse of Megan. She is certain the younger woman has a perfect life, sharing the joyous, easy love she once had when she was married to Tom. But that was before the IVF failed, and the drinking began, and Tom met Anna and had the perfect wife and perfect house — that Rachel had picked out all the furnishings in — and the perfect daughter and the perfect life that should have been hers.

Lots of people make up stories about people they see only at a distance. They usually tell more about the observer than the observed. Even when we do manage to glean some insight into a person, it’s usually superficial. Like on social media, we tend to see other people’s lives as happier and more fulfilled than our own. Most of the time this just makes us a little sadder, but Rachel is already spiraling out in her alcoholism and depression, and she hangs her entire sense of happiness on her perception of Megan’s.

So when, one Friday morning, she sees Megan kissing a different man, it’s devastating. On her return trip, stumbling drunk, she rushes out of the train at Ardsley-on-Hudson, and chases after the young, blonde woman. Or is it actually the almost-as-young, similarly blonde Anna? Rachel wakes up at home with her face covered in blood, her time lost to another blackout. And then a detective (Allison Janney) shows up asking pointed questions about where she was and what she saw that evening.

Director Tate Taylor steadily cranks up the tension as Rachel tries to remember what happened that evening. Did she witness a murder? Did she commit one? Rachel starts off slightly unhinged, and degenerates from there. This gives Blunt lots of great scenery to chew, but can sometimes feel unbalanced against the cooler, WASPier performances of the rest of the cast.

More interesting is the way screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson has adapted Paula Hawkins’ novel, streamlining it in places, but keeping it fresh for those in the audience who have read the story before. Importantly, she maintains Hawkins’ focus on the psychology of the three women at the center of the story. All of them are flawed, dissatisfied, and abused by the society they find themselves in. They all have complicated — but quite distinct — relationships with the role of wife and mother that can seem the only accepted one for them in Ardsley-on-Hudson.

The Girl on the Train doesn’t dig as deeply into these issues as Gone Girl did, and it’s nowhere near as challenging to an audience. Still, it’s an engaging, satisfying thriller that offers plenty to think about.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: pass.

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