Gone Girl (2014)


*. The novel, by Gillian Flynn was a sensational bestseller and a movie was more than inevitable. By that I mean it was a novel written in the expectation that it would be turned into a movie, as many novels are these days. In this case the film rights to the book were purchased, and it was effectively in development, even before publication. Flynn would also write the screenplay, which is a very close adaptation with nothing of consequence left out (though I missed Desi’s enabling mom). In his New Yorker review Anthony Lane expresses the wish that it had diverged from the book a little more, especially with the ending, but that was never in the cards.
*. That ending bothered a lot of people. They thought it unlikely that Nick and Amy would be able to get back together. I think this is missing the point. As with the novel, what starts off as a realistic tale of a young couple losing their way in an economic downturn — a downturn that finds them especially vulnerable (they are both writers for heaven’s sake!) — takes a sudden swerve into satire and fantasy in its second half. As David Fincher puts it on the DVD commentary “I maintain that the movie begins as a mystery and then sort of hands off the baton to an absurdist thriller.” By the time we get to the end we’ve gone through the media looking-glass and we’ve left realism far behind, entering a world that is “incredibly hyperbolic” (Fincher).


*. This doesn’t hurt the movie (or the book), and indeed I think it’s probably a big part of why it was such a hit. Realism has never gone over well with movie audiences. Hell, even “reality TV” is an oxymoron. When Tanner Bolt suggests pitching the story of Amy and Nick as a reality TV show he speaks with some authority.
*. Another reason for the film’s success was the way it pushed a lot of political buttons. What most of these connected to is the question of whether or not it’s a feminist film. Is Amy a righteous avenger fighting back against the patriarchy’s image of the “cool girl”? Is she empowered? A fierce representative of “abused, unwanted, inconvenient women” everywhere who was pushed too far? Or is she a homicidal psycho bitch, the reincarnation of Glenn Close’s madwoman in the tub from Fatal Attraction or the toxic psycho bitch from Play Misty for Me? Is Amy a narcissist interested only in being the center of attention and having people love her? You can see how much fun this is.


*. My own reading of Amazing Amy is that she’s a combination of Fincher’s ubiquitous criminal mastermind/puppetmaster (Kevin Spacey’s John Doe in Se7en, Consumer Recreation Services in The Game, the Zodiac Killer in Zodiac, Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network) and a traditional femme fatale. She has a deadly allure, able to present herself as the vulnerable damsel in distress while in fact being mad, bad, and very dangerous to know.
*. Every femme fatale needs some man she can control and potentially destroy. I don’t know if there’s a generic name for these guys, but they share a certain weakness when it comes to women. Boney recognizes this right away here, identifying Amy as a Type A or alpha female, and Nick as Type B. When we see Nick going down on Amy it’s not just a play to make him seem more likeable to a female audience (which was, according to director David Fincher’s commentary, a concern). Nick knows she comes first.


*. Ben Affleck certainly looks the part. He’s a big, good-looking guy who has gone soft and flabby. But Affleck is a movie star more than he’s an actor, which means he just looks the part. He doesn’t seem to have any sense of how to play Nick aside from looking sleepy. This drains energy from the film, which is something it really doesn’t need.
*. Throughout the movie this sexual role reversal gets played out in different ways. Boney dominates Gilpin, being his superior. Greta bosses redneck Jeff around (“He talked you into this?” “I talked him into it.”) The media is ruled by talk-show queens who threaten to eat Nick alive. This is a woman’s world.
*. Gone Girl is slow. This is not the fault of the script, which is well paced though still overlong given that it’s pretty simple story (the complexity is only in the way it’s arranged). Flynn keeps her story moving. The problem is more with Fincher, whose direction is polished and slick but totally stiff and without any sense of tension or suspense.
*. I mentioned the femme fatale and the schmucky hero and these are both typical figures from the world of noir. At its heart, I think this is a noir picture, but noir was always a B-genre. It’s meant to be snappy, abrupt, and a little rough around the edges. But Fincher is just way too smooth for this. This is a B-movie with A-list production values. It also runs for two and a half hours. Noir films don’t run for two and a half hours.


*. I like the credits coming up as quick fades. The timing really strikes the right note of sudden vanishing.
*. Gone are the days of penmanship. We’ve been reading about it for years now, but I still found it striking to see well-educated (Harvard and Yale) Amy only able to print her journal entries. And yet according to Desi she believes in “the lost art of letter writing.” I guess she printed her letters to him too.
*. I’m glad Fincher points out on the commentary that the lodge Amy stays at is “the Ralph Lauren version of what’s described in the book.” Can we believe white trash Greta staying at such a resort? I found this to be a really false note in the film, with Desi’s lake house being only a slightly less improbable upgrade. He’s rich, but not that rich.
*. It is, however, a mistake that’s representative of what’s wrong with this film. It looks too good.


*. Rosamund Pike is very good as Amy, meaning that she’s a convincing psychopath, but in the end I’m not sure how fascinating a character she is. I think great villains should enjoy being bad a little more.
*. I’ve already said my piece on Affleck. Neil Patrick Harris seems a bit lost at sea in trying to interpret who Desi is. But the rest of the supporting cast is great. Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens in particular are very well cast, and Tyler Perry is a gust of fresh air. That these “ordinary folk” should be stealing every scene they’re in with the two leads is, however, another problem the film has. Amy and Nick just aren’t very charismatic or believable figures.
*. There’s a lot to like here. Even stuff I haven’t mentioned, like the psycho score. But I still found it left me cold. Gone Girl looks great and is professionally handled, but in the end it’s a trashy tabloid sort of picture and doesn’t need a professional look. The swerve into craziness at the end also drains it of emotional resonance. I feel like it should be saying something about relationships between men and women, but how much can be extrapolated from this singularly “fucked up” couple? I mentioned Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction earlier and these are both movies that I can return to. Gone Girl may be considered by many to be a better film, but I wouldn’t share that opinion. I think it’s just more contemporary. And I don’t care if I ever see it again.


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