I’ve praised the minimal makeup look here before, if not the film it came from. Just because a role requires an actor to look worn out and undone doesn’t mean that your job is any less challenging than having a lead who needs to spend hours in your chair. And just because a film looks really, really pretty doesn’t mean it has any substance below the surface.
Based on Paula Hawkins’ “thriller that shocked the world” (according to the poster, I haven’t read it), The Girl on the Train is a sexy whodunit about a girl (woman, actually) obsessed with a seemingly perfect couple. Emily Blunt’s Rachel is said girl on the train, and she is never not bleary-eyed in this film – always looking either like she is about to cry, or like she just finished crying. I kept longing to reach out with a make-up cleansing cloth to get rid of her runny mascara smears. You gave her a ruddy, almost pre-gin blossom complexion. This is certainly not a glamourous role. But it was supposed to be a prestigious one, as so much money and hype was poured into this adaptation.
I enjoy Blunt as an actor, and I do believe she is quite talented, but this role seemed to be a poor match for her skills. Much of the plot hinges on the audience thinking that Rachel could have killed Megan, one half of the couple she sees every day as she passes by on the train. But like the expired eyeliner in the discount bin at the drugstore, I just wasn’t buying it. Blunt plays a fabulous drunk; a pathetic, slurry, embarrassing, hot mess. In her flashbacks with her ex-husband, where we’re supposed to see her as menacing, it just never works. She seems like a little girl trying on Mommy’s lipstick and play-acting. In fact, with only one shining exception (Haley Bennett, absolutely electric as Megan), the whole film is woefully miscast. There’s no amount of makeup that can fix that.
Even still, it’s not fair to blame the cast for the dimension-free characters they were chosen to play. They were given no deliciously strange predilections, or creepy idiosyncrasies to help us cast doubt on their alibis or motives. It was like watching a bunch of concussed J. Crew models playing an interminably long game of Clue. Director Tate Taylor, who had great success helming The Help and Get On Up, was out of his depth here. For a sexy thriller, The Girl on the Train was neither particularly sexy nor thrilling. Worse than that it was plodding. Taylor favoured many extreme close-up facial shots of his actors – likely why Blunt’s eye-makeup malfunctions were so glaring – in what seemed like an homage to the shots Susanne Bier uses so effectively. But where Bier’s technique reveals humanity in her characters, Taylor’s had nothing to reveal.
A thriller needs to do a lot in each scene – it needs to show us more about each character than we knew before, and it needs to constantly move the plot forward. Stopping to hold on yet another shot of Rachel’s rheumy eyes does neither. And though I’m sure you take great pride in your work, and you should, you must have become as tired of repeating the same mess over and over as I was watching it. This movie made me feel like I do when I take a long train ride – initially excited, creating backstories for the characters that are likely more interesting than the ones they have, waiting for something, anything to happen, and checking my watch too often. By the time it’s over, I’ve rubbed my eyes so much out of boredom that my mascara is everywhere too.