Sunday, October 12, 2014

Girls Gone Gone

Year: 2014
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris
Run Time: 2 hours 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

It is both a blessing and a curse to not have read the source novel for a new film, especially as a reviewer. On the one hand, I have no context for Gone Girl's successes or failures relative to its original narrative, as well as the perspective which most fans will have that I lack. But on the other, I can take the movie completely on its own terms, devoid of any pre-existing judgements.

At any rate, I saw Gone Girl and it was pretty good. I have absolutely no desire to read the book at this moment in time, so perhaps it failed as an advertisement, but it took the number one spot this weekend, so who am I to talk? I'm not even number one on this blog.

This picture of Ben Affleck is number one. Actually, while we're on the topic, let me boost my Google search numbers real quick: Sexy. Shirtless. Underwear. Go-go boots. Penis.

The story, as adapted by Gillian Flynn from a novel by Gillian Flynn, goes like this. Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), by all appearances, are a happily married couple. But after an economic downturn, they both lose their jobs and it begins raining on cloud nine. Boo hoo, why don't you dry your tears with the opulent Missouri mansion that you somehow still get to live in.

White people, I swear.

Anyway, one day Amy disappears and Nick must find her, dead or alive, to prove that he isn't guilty of murder most foul. As a media circus paints Amy as an angel and Nick as a violent wreck, we soon learn that neither of them are as they seem. They both land in the bitter, cynical, manipulative, and unhappy-in-marriage end of the spectrum. Basically they're perfect for each other.

And I'm gonna cut off here because I've been told that mysteries don't work as well if you give too much of the plot away. Though, for those interested in being in the know, there's a 600-page tome full of spoilers available for eight bucks on Amazon.

OK, OK. I know that joke was garbage, don't rub it in. Oh Ben Affleck, you and your Pecs. Abs. Girlfriend. Beard. Gay. Batman.

As with most films adapted from novels that aren't Psycho, there are numerous potholes simply from crossing over - namely the bloated plottiness of the second and third acts and the arch, overly written dialogue of the first. The latter, sprinkled among copious flashbacks, leaves Affleck and Pike stymied. While he strains to spit out lines so wooden they could kill a vampire, she adopts a mildly bemused expression and clings to it like a security blanket.

Luckily, Gone Girl and its performances quickly begin to loosen up, and at least the utter non-chemistry the two actors have during the first act works in the favor of the film's underlying themes. And once Affleck eases into the script like a non-heated pool - first with one tentative toe, then all at once, he brings an easy humor to his character that lights up the film like a firecracker.

This is the most literal interpretation of one of my statements that I have ever found in screengrab form.

And once the film gets on track it stays there, bolstered by strong performances on the sidelines by Carrie Coon as Nick's twin sister and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy's pining ex-boyfriend. But what makes or breaks the film is the slick direction by David Fincher, which adamantly does both. With a strong sense of personality, much of Gone Girl stands out among its decidedly underwhelming 2014 peers.

Fincher is known for being stylish and precise in his set design, dialogue, cinematography, and composition, as most recently seen in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Social Network, but while his aesthetic complements the wintry inhumanity of an icy thriller and the slick modernity of technological progress, here it feels almost antiseptic. The visual schema makes every character, movement, and event feel like it's part of a well-oiled machine, in diametric opposition to the mechanics of the story, which details the consequences that intelligent people face when a carefully planned-out life has a wrench thrown into it by messy reality.

The chilly aesthetic doesn't necessarily ruin the film, but rather keeps it at arm's length. And a particular reluctance to indict a husband quite as much as his wife (among other elements that I can't spoil in good conscience) lends the film an unrelenting air of quiet misogyny. It's not present enough to make the movie a truly vile experience, nor is it necessarily a bad way to tell the story.

In a perfect world, a movie that vilifies a woman would blend into the background because it's just one way to portray a character in a wide array of potential roles. But in today's political climate, especially regarding sexism in Hollywood, Gone Girl contributes to a poisonous attitude. It is just another tile in a mosaic of hate - not necessarily actively hateful, but not something we need at this moment in time.

What we do need is a nice, relaxing bubble bath.

All that said (and I do have to say my piece before supporting a movie with such a toxic depiction of a female character), Gone Girl is quite good at what it does. It is a wild mystery thriller married to a psychological portrait of a marriage gone wrong and a man daring to challenge his public image. It is stylish and cool, and the set design, especially a scene in an abandoned mall, is impeccable.

I don't know if I would call Gone Girl a "fun" watch, but its extensive run time speeds by in the blink of an eye (unless your bladder is exploding - my advice: don't drink an entire Icee during the previews) and it provides consistent entertainment from start to finish. While I may have my issues with some of the bumps it hits along the way, it is still a remarkable film and one of the better efforts in a year in which there's nothing much impressive going around.

TL;DR: Gone Girl is a perfectly serviceable mystery thriller, but not a transcendent masterpiece.
Rating: 7/10
Should I Spend Money On This? It's certainly less likely to make you teeth-gnashingly angry than Annabelle. If you bladder can withstand the punishing running time, why not give it a shot?
Word Count: 1098

1 comment:

  1. Heh. If I hadn't treated it like a satire of male fears of women, Gone Girl would be like the worst thing ever viz. gender issues. Like, worse than 1950s movies.