You’ve had about a month to go see The Girl on a Train. This means no excuses. No spoilers – because you already read and watched. Here we go!
I had my doubts if Hollywood could pull this one off as well as the book reads. It’s a nonlinear novel that jumps around three women’s point of views, two of which look similar. Oops, did I say too much? Naw, because you’ve already read and seen it. The setting changed from London to New York. (Note to studio execs: Americans have a fascination with the motherland, so we’re totally ok watching a movie set in London. Not everything has to be New York or L.A.) Also, Emily Blunt was cast as the overweight, alcoholic Rachel. As Rebecca pointed out in a previous Novel2Screen article, Emily Blunt is about as overweight as a stick insect. However, we do love her. She could potentially pull this off – even if she is beautiful.
The Girl on the Train was a remarkably faithful adaptation. More so than I thought it would be. They kept the nonlinear story line as well as toggling between the three women’s perspectives, including adding their name in the same font as the chapter headings to the books so the audience could follow along. The story was by the book, so to say. There was nothing out of left field that made me cringe and wonder why the studio felt the need to rewrite a New York Times best seller, which often happens. It was faithful down to the bloody ice pick.
The tunnel was exactly how I pictured it in my mind when reading. Luke Evans did a great job of walking that line between making you feel sorry for him and creeping you out. And although Emily Blunt wasn’t overweight, she was believable as hitting-the-bottom Rachel who questions if she’s losing her mind. And of course there was Allison Janney, who just shines in anything.
My only beef with The Girl on the Train was the casting of Dr. Kamal Abdic. Perhaps I misread the novel, but I pictured him as Indian – perhaps Pakistani. Maybe the latter is what they were going for in the film, but casting Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez seemed like a safe choice. He did a fine job in the role. He even had an accent – that I didn’t even notice until Emily Blunt pointed it out. But that’s my point. He was kinda ethnic. Sorta. Not really.
He looked like any other white man with a dark beard. Yes, I know technically he’s Venezuelan, but Edgar Ramirez has a totally adaptable look, which will serve him well in Hollywood. But this was a moment when Hollywood could have been bold and casted a South Asian actor in a subtly powerful and sexualized role. Hollywood copped out again. Just like Hollywood did when casting the Arab roles in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. You can read our rant here. Is it America’s tense relations with Middle Eastern and Asian countries that makes Hollywood feel like they have to cast other ethnicities to play these characters? Are there zero Middle Eastern or South Asian actors capable of holding the screen with Emily Blunt? I’m pretty sure they are out there and frustrated as hell after every audition. And, yes, we have a rant for this too.
I am curious how the film resonated with audiences that didn’t read the book. The reviews were less than stellar, which makes me wonder if it moved slowly or was too confusing to movie-goers who didn’t do their homework. So, does a faithful adaptation fail if it can’t stand alone without the book? Things that make you go “Hmm…”