Saturday, June 13, 2015

Gone Girl: A Review


The novel Gone Girl was rapturously praised.  It was obvious that there would be a film version, and when David Fincher was announced as the director, with the novel's author Gillian Flynn adapting the novel, it was sure to be not just a hit but a major Academy Award contender. Hollywood was stunned Nomination Morning to find that the much-touted and critically beloved Gone Girl received exactly one Oscar nomination.  That was for Rosamund Pike as Best Actress, whom everyone knew was going to lose to Still Alice's Julianne Moore (as would every Best Actress nominee NOT named 'Julianne Moore').  I went into Gone Girl a little concerned, given that I have a reaction against something so highly praised.  Sometimes, all the lavish feedback for a film pushes one's expectations so high you'd think something like Gone Girl had discovered the cure to AIDS, the way certain of my brethren and filmgoers speak of it.  I found Gone Girl has one extremely positive aspect, but in almost other ways, it's a long drag to get to its inevitable conclusion.

On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) comes home from The Bar, the bar he co-owns with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon), to find his wife missing, and some signs of a break-in.  His wife, Amy (Rosemund Pike), has some level of celebrity attached to her, as she was the inspiration for a series of children's books called Amazing Amy.  Needless to say, the real Amy not only was not on the same level as Amazing Amy, but is highly resentful and bitter about being connected to this fake version of herself.  Concerned, he contacts the police, and the lead investigator, Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) has a cynical view of events.

The nature of Amazing Amy creates media interest that soon turns to frenzy.  Nick does himself no favors by doing dumb things for the press (like smiling next to his wife's Missing poster for the cameras, or taking selfies with people helping in the search, or sneaking his mistress into the house for a tryst).  His actions, particularly in trying to uncover the mystery himself by following the clues his wife loved to leave him for anniversary gifts, also make things worse.  Eventually, Nick is suspected of having murdered Amy and attempting to cover it up.  All the details spill out as the days drag on...and on...and on...

Until we in the audience get a bit of a surprise: Amy is alive and well.  Amy has been heard through voice-over, and we discover that her 'death' was a long and carefully planned scheme to frame her cheating husband for murder, and then for her to commit suicide.  I'm a little unclear if she changed her mind or not, and I think she did.  Anyway, as she is hiding out in a trailer park, part of her story is uncovered by two unsavory characters, who rob her of the vast cash reserves Amy had.  Upset and momentarily thrown for a loop, she turns to an old boyfriend still obsessed with her, Desi Collins (Neal Patrick Harris).  Desi cheerfully agrees to shelter her, believing her story that she faked this to escape a violent man. 

By now though, Nick has put two and two together and realized that Amy is setting him up, but of course he has no way of proving it.  In desperation, he turns to powerful lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), who excels in making sleazy husbands escape prison after being accused of murdering their wives.  His cost is high, but he is intrigued by the lengths Amy has gone through, finding her a fascinating and devious creature.  Bolt sets up an interview with journalist Sharon Schrieber (Sela Ward), where he does a little manipulation of his own.  Amy and Desi see the interview, and she knows he's on to her.  Now comes her most risky move: to make her miraculous and dramatic return to life, even if it means Desi's life has to come to an end.  Once she returns, only Boney, once suspicious of Nick, has doubts to Amy's own version of events.  Amy, for reasons known only to her, wants to stay married to Nick and have a baby.  He despises her by now, but he cannot prove what he knows to be true.  They stay together, for the sake of appearances.

If there is one thing I thought was singularly fantastic about Gone Girl, is it Pike, who rightfully earned her nomination.  Manipulative, deceitful, and pretty much insane in a genius type of insane, Pike is brilliant as Amy: bitter and determined to get her way, contemptuous of everyone but a woman who manages to get her own even when her plans get slightly derailed.  That was one point I wondered about: how, given she had thought everything out, she could have been so foolish as to carry her money on her rather than leave it hidden somewhere where she could get at it later.  In the scene that tipped the two thieves off, a large wad of cash falls from her body.  I was surprised that she did not think to keep smaller amounts on her, or at least find nicer digs.

I think my difficulty with Gone Girl comes from something that maybe people aren't thinking while watching: despite claims to the contrary, it isn't an original story.   I was reminded of the biggest mystery of Agatha Christie: her own disappearance.  On December 3, 1926 (curiously, December 3 is my birthday), Christie disappeared from her home.  For ten days the public was gripped with the mystery, eventually suspecting her cheating husband Archie of murdering her.  She was found in a hotel under an assumed name (having checked in under the name of her husband's mistress).  Christie never revealed exactly what happened, and speculation still runs rampant (everything from her plotting out a new mystery to attempting to frame her husband for 'murder').  Given that I know of the Christie case, Gone Girl seems too eerily similar to that for me to be wildly overwhelmed with it.

There were other things that bothered me tremendously about Gone Girl.  One is David Fincher's direction.  I know many people love him as a director.  I personally have no great love or hatred for his work, but here, I kept thinking how a.) slow everything was (it's a very long film, and it felt longer to me), and b.) the sepia tones were getting on my nerves.  I know it was to set the mood, but sometimes I wondered whether he was going overboard with the 'gloom' of everything.  I kept seeing endless shades of brown.

More concerning though is the entire plot.  Granted, I've not read the novel, but I do wonder whether a film that suggests a woman faked being violently raped and assaulted is good.  Here, Amy viciously murders a yes, dumb man (why Desi would want to help her given how cruel she was to him before her marriage I don't understand, nor why Nick would go along with all this and stay with her...since I would have divorced that bat-shit crazy bitch negative feedback be damned), claiming he held her hostage and raped her.  What good does it do to all those women who were real victims of violent crimes?  Can we now say, 'oh, it's a Gone Girl situation...she faked it'.  One must tread lightly on stories that suggest women lie about sexual assault.  Just my view.

I thought Nick was a particularly weak man, emasculated to the core.  His wife held the money strings, the lead investigator was a woman, and he had no real conscience given how he had no problem sleeping with his student (he taught writing at a local community college).  Affleck I figure was OK in the role (he's never been one of my favorites). 

There is no such thing as the perfect crime.  Every big scheme has at least one or two flaws that if poked long enough, will bring it all down.  Gone Girl doesn't have that.  I found that a bit of a stretch.  I found its length a major turn-off (at one point in my notes, I wrote "When will this end?")  Pike I think would have had a chance to win almost any other year, and she is worth watching.  In regards to everything else, by the end of the film I too wished that the girl would go. 


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