Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A poor man's Jennifer Lawrence, and other Girl on the Train thoughts

I thought Jennifer Lawrence was in both The Girl on the Train and The Magnificent Seven.

Turns out, she's in neither.

Turns out, it's some person named Haley Bennett.

Haley Bennett is not just "some person," you might say. You might say she's putting together a little bit of career momentum here, also appearing in this year's (poorly received) Hardcore Henry, in 2014's The Equalizer, and even in some older well-regarded films like Music & Lyrics and Marley & Me.

But that doesn't change the fact that she looks almost exactly like Jennifer Lawrence, and that's (presumably) why people are casting her now.

Here, consider it. Someone on the interwebs has done me the favor of putting them next to each other:

When you look at them side by side, you can (probably) tell which is which. But when you see only Bennett by herself in a movie trailer, you think "Is that Jennifer Lawrence?"

And then, "If that's Jennifer Lawrence, why isn't her name on the poster?"

This was a big flaw in my theory about Lawrence being in The Girl on the Train. As you can see from the poster above, only Emily Blunt was deemed famous enough to appear on the poster. Lawrence is more famous than Blunt, so that theory didn't work.

But it still took me looking at her a couple times on screen before I said "Oh yeah, that's not J-Law. That's that woman I've seen in that Magnificent Seven trailer about seven times."

I wonder if it occurs to Bennett that her resemblance to Lawrence is probably a boon to her career. I mean, she's pretty, so she probably would have succeeded anyway. And Girl on the Train demonstrates that she has at least some acting talent (though nowhere near Lawrence's class). But part of her has got to think "Well, they wanted a Jennifer Lawrence type, and I was cheap so they got me." I suppose there are worse people than a four-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner to be likened to.

Lawrence is actually the youngest actress ever to accrue four Oscar nominations, as she only turned 26 two months ago. That means she was born in 1990, and that creates an interesting (though surely coincidental) relationship to Bennett as well. But the following is a SPOILER ALERT for Girl on the Train, so if you haven't seen it yet (and care), stop reading.

The movie has occasion to show a tombstone for Bennett's character, and the inscription shows that that character, too, was born in 1990. Bennett herself was born two years earlier than that, in 1988. I only wish I'd had the foresight to check out the exact date on the tombstone, because choosing Lawrence's August 15th birthday would have been a cheeky inside joke about the similarity of the two actresses.

And forgive me for a little bit of the vulgar Donald Trump coming out here, but I couldn't help wondering if some kind of wish fulfillment related to Lawrence was a reason we see so much of Bennett's skin in this movie. The only traditionally defined nudity we get of Bennett is to see her bare bottom, but in a shower scene and some other scenes, we come pretty damn close to seeing everything else. Part of me wonders if the apparent fixation on the amount of skin she revealed was an attempt by the filmmakers to cater to our most prurient interests regarding Lawrence -- to kind of make us think we were seeing Lawrence in the buff. (Then again, actual nude pictures of Lawrence are available from one of those Snapchat hacks or whatever it was, so perhaps we didn't really need to fantasize about Lawrence via Bennett in the first place.)

And on to some other thoughts ...

Oh Emily

Emily Blunt is one of my favorite working actresses today. Period. Exclamation point.

But boy did she let me down here.

What was she thinking in that first half of the movie?

She gets better, as does the whole movie, as it approaches its climax. But I'll be much quicker to blame Tate Taylor, the director, for how she performs her scenes of drunkenness in its first half. Because I just can't think of Emily Blunt as an actress who makes bad choices. No, not even appearing in Into the Woods.

But if I'm being honest with myself, Blunt at least shares the blame for her performance in this film.

Playing a drunk is not an enviable task. Many actors and actresses have tackled it numerous times, so not only are you competing with a pretty thorough history in the annals of acting, but even the best of those performances usually seem mannered in some way. There is almost always something too big by half about playing drunk. It's kind of like when people play being stoned or sniffing cocaine -- they almost always exaggerate the effects. (Whereas taking cocaine can really look as subdued as Trump looked during the second debate. Sorry, I'm taking every occasion I can to slam The Donald these days.)

So Blunt is not immune to those traps. She does a lot of unfocusing of her eyes and blurring of her speech and ranting and raving. There are choices she makes within her choices that ring true, but the overall effect is somewhat less than natural. And Taylor makes it worse by holding her in extreme close-up for many of these scenes.

The plot of the movie turns on a lot of twists related to her being blacked out, so no doubt Taylor is trying to capture that with his camerawork and editing choices. But it just doesn't work very well. And Blunt -- even if she is the blameless victim I want her to be -- pays the price.

Gone Girl on the Train

The similarities of this movie to Gone Girl are obvious, and I think, intentional. I won't list them here. Instead, I will draw attention to the one that I thought was the most shameless.

No less of a hall of fame film composer than Danny Elfman seems to have totally ripped off Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

The Nine Inch Nails frontman and his frequent collaborator worked with David Fincher to create a memorable and indelible score for Gone Girl. Then Elfman seems to have parroted it almost exactly.

People who know more about music than I do will surely point out important differences, but I noticed at least two points of near total correlation.

The beginning passages of both films deal with the lives of the couples in question pre-incident, when there's some possibility they're okay despite obvious foreboding to the contrary. In both films I noticed a sort of warm synthesized blooping on the soundtrack. (See, I told you I don't know much about music.) There's a melancholy to the music in these scenes, but also an optimism that things might turn out okay. The music is, as I say, warm, and it does, as I say, contain "blooping." You'll just have to try to imagine what I mean because I can't do any better than this, apparently.

As things go to shit and the more sinister elements of the plot are revealed later on, the score develops a sense of electronic rot, an ominous kind of scraping sound that increases in intensity as the physical and emotional violence of a scene intensifies. GONE GIRL SPOILERS. I'm thinking of the scene in Gone Girl where Rosamund Pike slits Neil Patrick Harris' throat and kind of writhes around on top of his body as the blood and life run out of him. I don't know if you remember it, but Reznor and Ross' score becomes unbearably rotten and scrapy during that scene. (Sorry, I'm doing my best.)

I'm not sure if there is an exact corresponding moment in The Girl on the Train -- I mean, there's a moment that involves a man bleeding from his neck that could well have that part of the score, but I didn't notice it there. I did notice it in the closing credits, and thought "That sounds almost exactly like that signature moment from the Gone Girl score."

Maybe we should just be happy Elfman isn't giving us another one of those Tim Burton-sounding scores with the angelic singing voices.


There's one woman at the center of the plot that I have yet to mention, and that's Rebecca Ferguson as the new wife of Emily Blunt's character's ex.

As I was watching the movie, I thought, "That woman looks sort of familiar, but I can't quite place her." The closing credits clarified for me. Ferguson was the woman who got so much praise in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.

Even knowing that, though, she still looked only sort of familiar.

It's clearly the same woman playing both roles, but her physicality is so different in the two roles, and they're such different roles, that I couldn't make the connection in my mind.

I'll dispense with the side-by-side photos here, because when I look them up on Google Images, they do look fairly similar. I mean, it's the same actress, so obviously they look similar. She's not wearing prosthetics or anything in either role. Her hair color does seem to be different, but that's only one minor reason she seems so different.

Really, she seems different because actors are supposed to seem different when they play different types of roles. Why do you think Vincent D'Onofrio looks different every time you see him? Because he really climbs inside the skin of the characters she's playing. He's a true chameleon. And from what I've seen of these two roles, Ferguson may be one too.

Not really enough for me to recommend you to go see the movie, though.

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