Fans of Paula Hawkins bestselling novel rubbed their hands with glee as the long-awaited film adaption of The Girl on the Train hit our cinema screens last October. Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help), a newbie to the thriller genre, the film was met with the high expectations.
With a winding, unpredictable and captivating narrative set among the dismal scenery of inner city London, Hawkins’ book was successful in capturing the voyeuristic tendency within us all. Its authenticity, from the unreliable slow train from Ashbury to Euston, to the carriage full of sighing passengers and the rows upon rows of terrace houses that graced the railway track, painted an all too familiar picture of British disappointment. This unpolished reality carefully intertwined in a gripping tale of heartbreak, murder and deceit made the book relatable. It put me, the reader, firmly in the passenger seat.
On a downwards spiral after the breakdown of her marriage to Tom (Justin Theroux) Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), lost in her own self-despair and still madly (in the literal sense of the word) in love with her ex-husband, commutes aimlessly back and forth on the train she once took to her former PR job in the city. Now living in a small apartment with her friend Cathy (Laura Prepon), she uses the journey as a type of therapy, absorbing herself in the ‘perfect’ life of Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) who she watches from the window of the train. An oh so convenient stone’s throw away is the house of her ex-husband, who lives with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby Evie.
The two houses are symbolic for Blunt’s Rachel, who with her large empty eyes and withered, grey complexion, wallows in a concoction of pain and desire for what she has lost and what she always wanted to be. But one day, Rachel’s fantasy is shattered when she sees something that will bring her closer to Megan and Scott than she ever could have imagined.
Structurally the film remains faithful to the book. Positioned from the perspectives of each one of the three women, the intertitles announce fluid character perspectives “Megan” and provide indications of time frame “Six months ago”. This constructs a cinematic take on individual chapters, breaking down the narrative into overlapping chunks that combine with Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s adventurous cinematography to define our point of view. From the creeping images of Megan Hipwell’s overactive sex life to the intoxicating mix of blurred, jerky camera shots that blink in and out of Rachel’s consciousness, the film shows us the world in their slightly dysfunctional eyes.
Other areas of the film, however, are noticeably different as The Girl on the Train undergoes its Hollywood makeover. Gone are the grey, gritty scenes fabricated in the depths of my imagination, replaced by a somewhat glamorous presentation of suburban New York, with spacious train carriages, preened back ‘yards’ and houses significantly larger than your two up two down. There are no engineering works on the track, no stops for long unexplained minutes, no ticket collector battling his way through a rammed train carriage. The Euston commute and all its unreliability has been given a little bit of added gloss.
Even Blunt is hardly the dishevelled wreck of a protagonist I imagined. Despite her bleary eyes, blotched skin and soulless expression she remains undeniably movie-star pretty and incredibly thin. Not quite, the image of the slightly overweight alcoholic the book describes Rachel to be. While Blunt tries to convince us with slurred words and unbalanced walking, she seems to look no more than mildly under the weather.
It’s details like this, that has left me and many other readers disappointed by the Girl on the Train. I find it hard to be convinced by the juxtaposition of characters whose lives are supposed to be falling apart in what can only be described as an airbrushed sheen of reality. What made the book so appealing was its ability to evoke familiarity, to draw upon the struggles of everyday life and reposition them in a thrilling, true to life storyline that viewers can relate. Sometimes, the ‘grub’ of a story, is what makes it so enjoyable. But it appears that in its ‘Hollywoodisation’ The Girl on the Train has lost the authenticity that ignited my imagination in the first place. I think I’ll be getting off at the next platform stop.
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