I have not read the popular book, The Girl on the Train. I think I may be the only one left. I plan on reading it though, because I saw the movie based on it last week, and loved it. And I’m always curious how far a script strays from it’s source material. Just about the only thing I know about the book is that it’s set in London, while the movie is set mostly in Ardsley-on-Hudson, a commuter town north of NYC.
It’s the story of three very different women, and it’s great to see three meaty female roles in one movie. Even the minor female parts are played by such acting powerhouses as Allison Janney (The West Wing, Mom) and Lisa Kudrow (Friends, The Comeback). Don’t get me wrong, the men are great too. But the richness and diversity of the female characters in this movie stood out to me.
Rachel is a drunk who won’t let go of the life she could have had with Tom, who has moved on to Anna. Rachel spends her commute along the Hudson looking into backyards, including her own former backyard. And she becomes especially obsessed with one particular backyard, populated by what she thinks is a perfect couple, the couple she and Tom should have been. When the woman from that backyard (Megan) goes missing, her obsession causes Rachel to be a suspect in the woman’s disappearance.
Essentially, The Girl On The Train is a movie about love. What love is, what love isn’t, what masquerades as love, and what we substitute for love when we don’t have the real thing. In order for the movie to work, the characters have to seem real. I mean, I guess that’s one of those stupid statements that could be true of all movies, but this movie has a harder job making it happen, because the characters are often so ugly inside. But they can’t (and don’t) seem like caricatures or stereotypical villains.
The acting in this movie is incredible, and it’s helped by the details. Everything from chapped lips to dirty bathtub grout help the feeling of intense, relentless, ugly reality. You never know where the story is going (at least I didn’t, not having read the book), and you just have to lurch along with all these sad people, holding on for the ride.
I sat down with some of the actors from the movie, plus the director, Tate Taylor. They said some really interesting things that I can’t talk about here, because they’re the most spoilerific things ever, and most of you haven’t seen the movie yet. So come back in a week and I’m going to publish the parts of the interviews that I had to leave out. [OK, it took two weeks.]
The movie is brutal. There are scenes that I found hard to watch, and I’m not squeamish. But none of it is gratuitous. The nudity, the violence, it all serves the story. Did the studio give Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up) a hard time about the content? Was he ever pressured to tone it down to a PG-13 level?
According to Tate, no. “This is dirty, sexual, painful, violent. This is an adult, R-rated movie.” And right from the start, he had no problem with the studio. “I can’t help to think that there’s been some movies that have kind of laid the groundwork for that, Deadpool among them. Even Bridesmaids. That was adult. That was even, like, damn.”
At the center of things is Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Sicario, the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns), playing the girl on the train, Rachel. Rachel’s life is in a downward spiral, and honestly I’ve never seen anyone play drunk as well as Emily Blunt. I asked her how she prepared for that part of the role.
“Number one, it’s just me on a Friday night usually.” (And I laughed, and laughed, because Emily is charming and I wanted her to like me.) “Here’s the thing,” she continued, getting more serious: “I think that there’s a lot of pitfalls with playing an alcoholic and portraying an alcoholic. And I just wanted it to be as authentic and raw and ugly as possible. It is an ugly disease. Once its claws are in you, the idea of a better life is an impossible one. And her infatuation with alcohol has become the only relationship that is ongoing in her life.
“And how frightening that is. It’s an ugly thing when you’re around a drunk. It’s not funny. And I think the pitfall is that it’s a bit comical and a bit like lurching around like a drunk uncle. And I was nervous of portraying it in a comedic way or it seeming funny.
“And so, I watched a lot of documentaries on it because rather than see other performances by actors playing alcoholics, I just needed to watch the reality of what it was. Intervention was a fantastic source that I watched on a loop. And there’s a documentary that Louis Theroux did. I don’t know if any of you have seen it. It’s really fantastic.
“And I read books on depression and drinking, and I know some alcoholics, and I spoke to some of them, either recovering or not or on the verge of wanting to recover. And so, all those sources were everything to me when it came to portraying this part, because at the end of the day, you know, this is not just the portrait of an alcoholic. This is a thriller. It’s got to move like a thriller.”
Yeah…so…Justin Theroux (Parks and Recreation, The Leftovers) is one big spoiler. Seriously, there’s barely a sentence of his interview that I can post here. But I wanted to mention him because he’s so pretty in person. I’ll talk about his interview after you’ve seen the movie, I promise.
A common theme among the cast seemed to be that they hadn’t read the book until they’d gotten cast in the movie, and Luke Evans (Furious 7, the upcoming Beauty and the Beast) was no exception. That fact made for a funny scene at a book store after he was cast. His part in the movie had just been announced publicly in the afternoon, and that night he went to a book store to buy the novel.
“So, I walked in, and the whole wall’s The Girl on the Train. I was like, can I have a The Girl on the Train book, please? And as [the cashier] passed it over and he put it in, he said, ‘I won’t tell anybody you haven’t read it yet.’ I was like, oh, shit.”
And seriously, after interviewing seven people that’s all I can tell you right now! The Girl On The Train will be in theaters on Friday, October 7th. Go see it. Then come back here, and we’ll talk about it some more, because man, is there a lot to talk about.
You can see clips and interviews of the actors on the movie’s Instagram account.