Movie Review: Gone Girl


Gone-Girl-film-posterI don’t know why this simple premise intrigued me when the best-selling book and now movie, Gone Girl first came out, but it did: A young married couple. The wife suddenly disappears. Was it murder? Did her husband do it?

But alas, the film, for all its accolades, is a massive disappointment, and really, a failure as a film. My biggest beef is with the ending, which makes no sense. No sense. Way beyond a plot hole. [Disclaimer: I have not read the book, but am told it ends the same way.]

There is no way to do this review without spoilers–given the thin premise–but I will jump around and be as sketchy as I can.

Several things about this film make it feel amateurish (although I like other David Fincher films). The author of the book, Gillian Flynn, also wrote the screenplay (not bad for a first-time screenwriter, but it shows). Maybe this is part of the problem.

The offbeat casting actually does work: Tyler Perry as a high-powered lawyer; Neil Patrick Harris as a wealthy, obsessed fan-boy; homey and likeable unknown (but not for long!) Carrie Coon as the husband’s twin sister.

There are two main characters: both husband and wife double-narrate their own point of view throughout, although it leans much more to the wife at a certain point, especially since she keeps a diary that provides much of the voiceover.

Ben Affleck does not work in the lead role of husband, and I even question Rosemund Pike as the wife. Affleck is a one-note actor who often blurts his lines without truly grasping the emotion or the moment. Everything about Pike is always pristine (which this part calls for), but I’m not sure that either of them grasped the intricate dance that the story was all about–unless I read more richness into the story than is there.

Affleck never changes, and Pike only changes from beleaguered wife to full-out psycho, which, it seems, should have been a much slower, more gradual reveal. I thought we could really have commiserated with the wife over the affair, and thought that that was the real issue for a while.

You see, once we know that the wife is a full-on psycho, she can no longer be the main character. Screenwriting 101 Rule #1: criminally insane people do not make good main characters because nothing will stop them. They are capable of anything. There is often no real logic to their motivations or actions, as meticulous as they may be. Even if there is a powerful, dangerously crazy, scene-stealing antagonist (Hannibal Lecter, the Joker, any “monster” in a horror film) in a movie, they are offset by a sane protagonist.

BIG SPOILER ALERT! The ending makes absolutely no sense. Why in heaven’s name does the husband stay with her? He was exonerated. There was absolutely no need at all. The entire story breaks down at this point and veers into ridiculousness. But audiences seem to “just go with it,” which is scarier to me than the broken story.

I know our society struggles to reason and think logically, but audiences have always been tough on films with shoddy plot points. Maybe guys give it a pass because it’s a woman-scorned-chick-flick-dark-drama-but-God-help-you-if-you-pulled-something-like-this-with-Star-Wars. But, gals? Thinking caps?

The brief sex scenes/nudity are not as graphic as they were drummed up to be, but one bloody violent scene is pretty stomach-turning. There are other problems with the film: it’s choppy and a tad boring. The beginning and ending music is odd and drowns out the dialogue. The characters are not fully fleshed out: people talk and talk and talk about who they are and who everyone else is, but we never actually see them acting that way. We never really grasp who this couple is (even though they were not always true to themselves), which is essential for the audience investing in them and the story.

Screenwriting 101 Rule #2: “Show, don’t tell.” Screenwriting 101 Rule #3: The audience must care about the characters, because the filmmakers have made us feel like we know them and can relate somewhat (even if they aren’t sympathetic characters).

The script/dialogue is definitely a writer’s script: fancy verbal sparring at all times. Even the cop uses “meta.” Really? The urgency of the film doesn’t kick in for quite some time (the music could have been used more effectively hear to build tension).

There is some fun layering of plots (the flashbacks, the diary itself, the “treasure hunt” of clues), but the wife’s parents are, like, extra appendages or something. They serve no purpose. That might be allowed in novels, but not in films. Or if their purpose is that the wife’s life wasn’t quite “reality” from the beginning because of them, that needs to be played up.

I love good suspense-thrillers, but “Gone Girl” just feels generally gratuitous, precious and precocious. It felt like a film that could easily have been for the small screen.

The most chilling message of the film is: If you turn love into a game, if you are not yourself before or after marriage and neither is your spouse–whom did you just marry? Few of us will experience a “war of images” on national TV, but it does give one pause to wonder what other (perhaps even insincere) “images” we portray of ourselves that “do battle” for us?

Even more chilling (and strange), in interviews with Flynn and in reviews, people are treating this depiction of a crazed woman and a seriously messed-up relationship as, well, normative: “Yeah, that’s marriage for ya.”

My head hurts. I rarely tell people to save their money and not go see a film, but I’m gonna say it about this unentertaining turkey. But have all the turkey you want later this month.


About Author

Sr. Helena Burns, fsp, is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation founded to communicate God's Word through the media. She is finishing her M.A. in Media Literacy Education; has a B.A. in theology and philosophy from St. John's University, NYC; studied screenwriting at UCLA and Act One, Hollywood; and holds a Certificate in Pastoral Youth Ministry. She is the movie reviewer for “The Catholic New World,” Chicago’s Archdiocesan newspaper. She is currently writing and producing a documentary on the life of Blessed James Alberione: Sr. Helena has been giving Media Literacy and Theology of the Body workshops to youth and adults all over the U.S. and Canada since the 90’s, and believes that media can be a primary tool for sharing God's love and salvation. Sr. Helena Burns, fsp Pauline Books & Media 172 N. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60601 facebook: Helena Burns twitter: @SrHelenaBurns