Book and Movie Review: The Girl on the Train

Image: Goodreads


Last week, the real-life Book Club Babes discussed the bestselling thriller, The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, and I was delighted that it was our first meetup in which every single member had finished the novel! That fact that people weren't just showing up for the wine (not that there's anything wrong with that...) demonstrates just how good this book is!

Because I watched the film adaptation shortly thereafter, I decided to summarize my thoughts on both versions in one review. Did the movie live up to the book, or was it a total trainwreck? (Sorry, couldn't help myself!)

Book Rating: 4 out of 5

Before I begin, let me get this out of the way: Yes, The Girl on the Train is similar to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn in the sense that they are both popular thrillers that were published around the same time and feature an unreliable female lead. To give a quick plot summary, this novel is written from the POVs of three women: Rachel, an alcoholic struggling emotionally after her husband Tom divorces her; Anna, the other woman whom Tom leaves Rachel for; and Megan, Anna's nanny who is found dead.

Whereas Gone Girl is a psychological "he said, she said" thriller, The Girl on the Train is more of a traditional murder mystery. Despite its best efforts, I never got the sense that Rachel was Megan's murderer, just a pitiable drunk mess who cannot cope with her infertility, which she believes was the cause of her addiction.

And as much as I hated Anna for relishing her role as mistress, it was difficult to consider her aggressive enough to take matters into her own hands. Blame it on being a hardcore feminist I suppose (and the fact that over one-third of female homicides are committed by an intimate partner), but my intuition kept pointing to the men in this story as the real suspects, and that gut feeling turned out to be right.

Perhaps this is why I was disappointed that the book had such a catty tone, pitting these female rivals against each other. There were many comments from Anna and Megan about "winning" their lovers' hearts due to their superior looks, and Rachel suffered a fair dose of body-shaming as her alcoholism wreaked havoc on her appearance.

I understand that this is how adultery plays out in the real world, with women blamed as "homewreckers," but it was clear that this was the true red herring in the novel, not the mysterious redheaded man often found riding the same train as Rachel. Without giving too much away, in the end, the story is redeemed by placing Anna and Rachel in a position of solidarity against the true villain whom they should have been pointing fingers at the entire time.

Overall, this is a book that keeps you guessing, and although some members of our book club hoped for more of a twist, we all agreed that it was an enjoyable read. With multifaceted characters and plenty of drama, this is a great book for discussion and worthy of its fanfare.

Movie Rating: 4 out of 5

After Tim Burton's "Miss Peregrine" utterly ruined Ransom Riggs' amazing YA series, I went into the theater with reservations. I mean, who wants to get their heart broken twice in one week? Fortunately, this film directed by Tate Taylor ("The Help," "Get On Up") for the most part was an accurate depiction of the novel, save for these exceptions:

  • Lazy, but minor change: Setting the story in New York, instead of London (even though Emily Blunt inexplicably keeps her British accent as Rachel).

  • Hollywood's obsession with beauty: Not portraying Rachel as large and "off-putting" as she as described.

  • Because all people of color are the same, right?: Miscasting Latino actor Edgar Ramirez to play Megan's therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic, without changing the character's name to match his different ethnicity.

Excusing the misguided attempt at cultural diversity, I thought that the cast was excellent. I especially loved Emily Blunt, who nailed the sad, slightly unhinged woman scorned who just wants to uncover the secrets of her blackouts, and Allison Janney, who came across as just the right amount of bitchy as Detective Riley.

Since it can't escape the comparisons, I did enjoy watching "Gone Girl" more, because the suspense was more intense and had higher stakes. Rosamund Pike is absolutely flawless in that film, and the manipulative game she plays as Amy Dunne is something that I could watch again and again. "The Girl on the Train" was a great adaptation in its own right, but not nearly as clever or gripping to warrant multiple viewings.

And honestly, if you're not even going to offer the killer cover of Kanye West's "Heartless" from the movie trailer in the soundtrack, then that's total justification for docking one star in its rating. Now that's something I'd put on repeat!

Movie Review: Gone Girl

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

One thing you should know about me is that I am a total wuss when it comes to things that are even remotely scary. I never watch horror films, and I avoid most crime shows, because "CSI" gives me nightmares.

This is because I'm more frightened by scenarios that have real-life potential. I'm totally fine with White Walkers, Nazgul, and Dementors, but serial killers and kidnappers? No thanks!

So I surprised myself by going to "Gone Girl," the adaptation of the bestselling thriller by Gillian Flynn. I hadn't read the book (see reasons above), but I had heard enough about it to know that it wouldn't be my cup of tea. However, I figured that since the twist had been spoiled for me by the blogosphere, I could handle the suspense.

Holy moly, was I on the edge of my seat! I made the mistake of seeing this movie in theaters at 10pm, causing me to lose a lot of sleep. Be forewarned: your mind will be reeling from replaying scenes over and over--not to mention, it will make you doubt your trust in your loved ones and go to bed with one eye open!

For those few readers unaware of this story, it follows Amy Elliott-Dunne, who has gone missing on her fifth anniversary to her husband Nick. Nick is immediately suspected for her disappearance, especially after investigators discover her diary that describes his past aggression and violent attacks toward her.

Once the public hears that Amy was pregnant and Nick had been committing adultery with one of his students, all hell breaks loose and he is branded as a wife-killer. It's up to his legal defense and his sister Margo to help him escape imprisonment and possibly the death penalty.

What I wasn't aware of was how early the twist is revealed. I won't spoil anything, but once the plot develops, it becomes an exhilarating new kind of story. Between the two unreliable narrators, it's a race to the finish on who will be the more convincing.

As a former journalist and student of media studies, what I loved most about this film was its spotlight on the importance of public perception during high-profile court cases. One only has to look at the cases of O.J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, Casey Anthony, and even Darren Wilson to understand that how people view you is infinitely more vital than your verdict.

Whether you're guilty, innocent, or awaiting judgment like Bill Cosby, your reputation is everything. Nick Dunne was fighting not only for his life, but also for his name. It's intriguing to theorize how "Gone Girl" would have been different if Nick and Amy swapped genders or if they were people of color. Privilege is often the greatest ally you can have to protecting your perception.

If you're looking for a movie that will keep you up at night thinking, then "Gone Girl" is for you. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are absolutely fantastic in this Oscar-worthy film directed by David Fincher (the genius behind "Fight Club" and "The Social Network") and written by author Gillian Flynn herself; Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry are excellent at playing their parts as well.

I may not have planned to see this movie, but I'm so glad that I did!