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Why does modern society assume that all women want the same three things: love, sex and babies? The short answer is, because pop culture has decreed it so.

The slightly longer answer is that brilliant female novelists such as Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn have written bestsellers to that tune, which Hollywood has then turned into blockbusters. Flynn’s contribution was “Gone Girl,” the 2014 smash hit directed by David Fincher.

Hawkins’ “The Girl on the Train,” directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help”), has drawn another thick line under the truism of what women want. While that’s not a complete falsehood, “The Girl on the Train” makes the case that love, sex and babies are the only things women strive for, even if they must sink to the lowest depths to get them. And in that sense, the movie includes a streak of misogyny to rival that of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.

The Girl on the Train
Rating
Run Time 112 mins
Language English
Opens NOV. 18

Perhaps in an attempt to soften the blow of misogyny, alcohol is a constant presence here. Protagonist Rachel (Emily Blunt) is often seen drinking out of self-loathing.

Rachel once had two out of the three things women are supposed to desire: love and a lot of sex with her virile husband, Tom (Justin Theroux). However, pregnancy eludes her, and to cope with the disappointment Rachel starts drinking, which, in turn, sours her marriage. Tom divorces her and marries his mistress, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Anna moves into the same house that Tom had once shared with Rachel, settles down, gives birth to a baby and then moans that she misses being “the other woman.”

Alone and miserable, Rachel spends her days on park benches, drinking vodka from water bottles and brooding about her former life. For Rachel, the commute by train into Manhattan is the one place she’s relatively sane, staring at a row of houses from the window. At one end of the row is the house where she used to live with Tom. At the other end lives a couple — Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) — whom Rachel inwardly obsesses about, a “golden” pair seemingly suspended in a gorgeous euphoria of chic lifestyle choices and gratuitous sex (some of which is visible from the train).

Rachel imagines Megan’s life, vicariously reliving the sensation of being desired. Then, one morning, Rachel sees Megan in the arms of another man, and a few hours later Megan is reported missing. Rachel suspects the man has something to do with Megan’s disappearance, but she doesn’t even remember where she herself was at the time of Megan’s disappearance.

Taylor decided to shift the setting of the film from London (as depicted by Hawkins) to New York, but otherwise he stays faithful to the novel. Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson even sticks to Hawkins’ narrative structure, which darts back and forth between timelines, blending dream and fantasy sequences with real events.

While the ploy works well in the novel, it fares less better in a movie, especially as “The Girl on the Train” relies solely on drunk, depressed Rachel to unfurl the facts. The trouble is, she blacks out frequently, waking up befuddled with vomit in her hair.

This could be the best performance of Emily Blunt’s excellent career, but she’s often too good — enacting a woman far less likable and much more screwed up than Hollywood heroines are usually allowed to be. In fact, it’s ultimately hard to root for her — or for anyone else, for that matter.

On the other hand, that seems to be the whole point of “The Girl on the Train”: Girls wanna get blind drunk and be treated like a rarified rose. If that’s the case, then deal with it — just don’t expect us to feel good about it.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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