Review: 'The Girl on the Train' is about a passive, floundering woman

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 112 minutes (~2 hours)

“The Girl on the Train” is a mystery film that’s based on the book of the same title. 

An alcoholic ex-divorcee who cannot remember what happens during her drunken blackouts fantasises about the life of a stranger she sees every day on the train — until she finds out that stranger has been murdered. 

It stars Emily Blunt (Rachel Watson), Haley Bennett (Megan Hipwell), Rebecca Ferguson (Anna Watson), Justin Theroux (Tom Watson), Luke Evans (Scott Hipwell), Allison Janney (Detective Riley), Edgar Ramirez (Dr Kamal Abdic), and Lisa Kudrow (Martha). It is rated M-18.

“The Girl on the Train” is a mystery film that is, in the end, really about nothing at all. While it does have its moments when it comes to the thrill of the unknown, the problem is that it doesn’t elicit positive emotions from you. 

You gain nothing from the film, and it’s just a movie adaptation of a successful book. That’s as good as it gets.

Highlights

Good tension and symbolism

Thanks to the unreliable narrator that is Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), you can never quite figure out what is happening. 

The structure of the film also enhances the disorientation of the protagonist, jumping between locations and time periods with nary an indication of the change. 

The finale also surprises you with the sheer cruelty of the surprise antagonist.

Letdowns

Thoroughly confusing storytelling

But thanks to the storytelling style, you also can’t figure out what’s happening in the film. 

You just blunder through the events, and the shocks are intellectual, rather than being emotional surprises. 

It’s impossible to connect with the characters simply because you don’t understand what motivates them, and most importantly, what exactly they did.

Rachel is an unsympathetic protagonist

While you can comprehend why Rachel becomes an alcoholic, you don’t feel sorry for her because of the tremendous harm her addiction causes. 

Even though the story resolves the central conflict satisfactorily by the end, it doesn’t cure the root problem of Rachel’s addiction. 

Worst of all, Rachel is a passive, whiny character that stumbles upon solutions, rather than taking the initiative to solve the mystery of the movie.

She’s not a girl, she’s a woman!

And here we come to one of the key problems of Rachel’s character. She’s not a young, inexperienced girl who’s brimming with enthusiasm. 

She’s a grown woman. The title of the film (and the book) is a huge clue to Rachel’s problem. 

She has never grown up, so she keeps expecting people to help her, rather than helping herself. 

With such an inactive heroine, this makes the film about nothing, and not in the good “Fraser” way either. She’s an utterly loathsome character.

Lacks a raison d'etre

There is no point to “The Girl on the Train” because it’s just a series of coincidences that end up foiling a murder mystery. 

It’s not due to the character’s dogged perseverance or faith in herself that saves the day — the solution hinges on a chance (and implausible) meeting that sets off a series of revelations. 

There’s no theme, no message, and no purpose to this film, besides being a mystery that, in hindsight, would be impossible to solve on your own power.

“The Girl on the Train” should have been titled “The Ineffective, Floundering Woman”.

Should you watch this if it’s free? OK.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? If you like Emily Blunt.

Score: 2.5/5

“The Girl on the Train” opens in cinemas:
- 6 Oct 2016 (Singapore)
- 6 Oct 2016 (Malaysia)
- 5 Oct 2016 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes atmarcusgohmarcusgoh.com. The views expressed are his own.