“The Girl on the Train” is feel-bad misery porn that desperately wants to be “Gone Girl” but lacks that story’s surprises and cathartic, twisted resolution. Based on Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel and directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help”), this dreary film has a melodramatic murder-mystery plot that could be straight from a routine episode of “Law & Order,” if “Law & Order” focused on the victims and suspects instead of the cops. Everything ends up solved, with no loose ends, but you don’t feel like you saw anything of consequence.
What you will have seen is nearly two hours of various downcast individuals wallowing in their respective pits of despair. Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a drunken stumblebum who’s still stalking and harassing her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), a philanderer who’s now married to the woman he cheated on Rachel with. That would be Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), a new mother who doesn’t have employment outside the home yet can’t handle her baby without a nanny’s assistance. The nanny is Megan (Haley Bennett), a listless young wife herself, married to the controlling Scott (Luke Evans), who keeps pressuring her to have a baby she doesn’t want. (She doesn’t even like taking care of someone else’s.) Megan is seeing a therapist (Edgar Ramirez), but good grief, everyone in the cast should be on his client list.
Every day, Rachel’s commuter train passes Tom and Anna’s house — which used to be her house — and the house of Megan and Scott, whom she doesn’t know but who live a couple doors down. She imagines Megan and Scott’s lives based on the glimpses she sees of them (they are not opposed to having sex in front of a giant window visible from the train), all the while fretting and stewing about Tom and Anna and their precious baby, which is something she always wanted (a baby of her own, I mean, not theirs specifically).
Then Megan, the sad nanny, goes missing, on a night that happens to be one of Rachel’s blackout-and-not-remember-anything nights. Rachel has no motive to have targeted Megan, but Megan does look a lot like Anna, and there are many mistakes you can make when you’re blind drunk. Of course, Megan’s husband and therapist are suspects, too, and eager Det. Riley (Allison Janney) is going to get to the bottom of it, don’t you worry.
With the aid of exhausting flashbacks to six, four, and two months ago, the film reveals more about Megan’s past and her relationship with Scott. Meanwhile, pathetically trying to clear her own name, Rachel contacts Scott to tell him what she witnessed the last time she saw Megan from the train. It doesn’t occur to Rachel that striking up a friendship with the husband of a missing woman doesn’t look good for anyone.
Indeed, many things do not occur to Rachel. Not having things occur to her is the only thing she is good at. Perpetually sad, rheumy-eyed, and disheveled, she is perhaps the most relentlessly pitiful movie character of the year, and the runners-up are all on the screen with her. Everyone is unhappy and mistrusting — and with good reason, because everyone around them is lying and/or disappointed in them. These are the kind of people whose preferred verb when discussing sex isn’t “have sex” or even “screw” but just plain old “f***,” no matter the context or who they’re talking to. Who talks like that? People who don’t care about anything anymore, that’s who.
Despite the bleakness of being populated entirely by wet blankets, the film gets by for a while on the mechanics of its plot. Whether we like these people or not (we don’t), we want to see how the whole tawdry mystery plays out. Unfortunately, how it plays out is: conventionally. Yep, one of the people we thought might have done it did it. Yep, for the reasons we suspected. Sure enough. Case closed, Det. Allison Janney. Good work. Why’d you have to drag us into it?
C+ (1 hr., 52 min.; )