Wednesday, October 12, 2016

LIZ SMITH: The Girl On the Train

Emily Blunt as commuter Rachel Watson in “The Girl On the Train.”
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Will Emily Blunt's "Train" Ride Travel Straight to Oscar-land?

“ONE MORE thing, ‘The Girl on the Train’ is, aside from its thriller credentials, one of the best cautionary tales I’ve ever read about drinking. After putting this down, you’ll never want to lift a glass to your lips again, especially if you’ve ever experienced — as the wretched Rachel does — an alcoholic blackout during which you just know ‘Something happened. Something bad!’”

“The Girl On the Train” — A soberinng experience.
We wrote that back in March of last year, after tearing through Paula Hawkins’ incredible thriller, “The Girl On the Train.”

This book literally derailed my equilibrium. I found all the characters, including the three female protagonists, utterly repelling, eventually. As each new layer of the mystery unfolded it was like being hit in the head with a baseball bat!

I noted, at the time, that it would make a sensational film. But given its three-narrative plotline, and the slow, complex reveal of each character, big-screen adaptation might be “tricky” for a screenwriter.

Now, Ms. Hawkins' novel is on the big screen, starring Emily Blunt as the miserable “heroine” of the tale, along with Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux and Luke Evans.  They are all involved, on some level, with Rachel, whose grasp on reality is as tenuous as her grip on a bottle of vodka is tight.
The movie debuted at number one over the weekend despite so-so reviews.  Because I loved/hated the book (well, the characters) I approached with trepidation. Not to worry. I found the movie, directed by Tate Taylor a remarkably tense, faithful adaptation of the paranoia-drenched novel. I knew what was going to happen, I knew who to really hate, but was as caught up in the various improbable situations as easily when I read this thriller. Is it as compelling and sinister and heartbreaking as the book?  Maybe not.  Maybe nothing could be.  But it is worthy indeed, if perhaps too deliberately paced at times. And, for me, anyway, the alternating timeline thing (past/present/past) which has become almost de rigueur in many films — and books — of any genre, has worn out its welcome.  A linear telling is not to be despised.  Whiplash is.
Luke Evans as Scott and Haley Bennett as Megan.
The plot?  A woman, whose “happy” life, seen from afar by the extraordinarily unhappy Rachel, disappears. Dead? Fled? Was Megan really happy? What happened during that drunken blackout?  How is Rachel’s ex-husband involved?  How is Rachel involved? Or is she? Who else does she drag into the morass of her guilt, rage and terror?   Take it from there.  Nothing is what it seems.

I have long been a fan of Emily Blunt, way back when she nearly snatched “The Devil Wears Prada” right from under Meryl Streep’s nose.  Blunt seems to be able to do anything — comedy, drama, action, sci-fi, musicals — and do it remarkably well.  Here the actress tackles perhaps the most unforgiving character she has ever played — she is uncomfortably compelling.  You search to find a way to be on her side, but the character won’t allow it, or only in flashes, mostly of drunken self-pity. 
Miss Blunt won a Golden Globe for the 2006 TV movie “Gideon’s Daughter” and been GG nominated four times since.  Oscar has, maddeningly, looked away. I don’t see how it’s possible after “The Girl on The Train.”  She is riveting.

High marks to all of her co-stars, as well. Haley Bennett as Megan, the object of Rachel’s unhealthy, unrealistic obsession is splendid.
Rebecca Ferguson as Anna.
Haley Bennett — the object of Rachel’s obsession.
Rebecca Ferguson as the obvious object of Rachel’s rage, Justin Theroux as Rachel’s sexy, unpleasant ex, Luke Evans as Megan’s husband, Allison Janney as the inevitable detective and Edgar Ramirez as a doctor who can’t cure the mess he’s pulled into, are all spot on. (Excellent bits from Laura Prepon and Lisa Kudrow, too.)
Justin Theroux as Tom.
Allison Janney as Detective Riley.
Fair warning — this film, like the book, examines all the vagaries of grimy humanity, and most of the main players in the tale are rather beastly or pathetic.  But, it’s also a thriller, so everything is on a heightened scale — absurdly exploitive and (for me) compulsively watchable.

I went to dinner after seeing the film.  I did not order wine.
Rebecca Ferguson, Producer Steven Spielberg, Haley Bennett, Edgar Ramirez, and Director Tate Taylor.
THIS N’ That:

... On October 17th, The WorkShop Theater Company honors lyricist Sheldon Harnick with its Jewel Box Award.  This happens at The Lindeman (508 West 42nd Street).

Tovah Feldshuh, Sally Mayes, Michael McCormick
and Robert Cuccioli will perform some of Harnick’s best work, from musicals such as “Fiddler on the Roof,” “She Loves Me,” “Fiorello!,” “The Rothschilds,” “Tenderloin” and one of my all-time favorites, “The Apple Tree.” (It would be bliss if the divine Tovah Feldshuh sang the entire “Passionella” section from “The Apple Tree.” That remains one of the wittiest satirical takes on fame and “glamour.”)

Theater critic Peter Filichia will chat with Harnick.  For ticket info call 212-695-4173 or click here.
... GLENN CLOSE, Phylicia Rashad and Brian Stokes Mitchell are the three actors who will be inducted into The Theater Hall of Fame on November 14th at the Gershwin Theater. Designer Catherine Zuber, lyricist Tim Rice, playwright Marsha Norman, librettist Joe Masteroff and producer Paul Libin will also be honored. This in one of theater’s most “theatery” nights! Visit to get in on it.
ENDQUOTE: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Funny/sad words to live by — certainly these days! — courtesy of Woody Allen.

Contact Liz here.