The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn's novel Gone Girl received rapturous praise when it was released. The book envisioned a tortured marriage, and told its story from separate points of view, one of which may or may not have been that of a dead person. Little by little, it uncovered the layers of animosity and resentment that were seeded in this marriage, only to come into full bloom later on, when it was too late. It was, in essence, a horror story, albeit one where the villain was not a vampire, serial killer, or monster, but rather a spouse. That's what made it so unnerving – the idea that the person you ostensibly love more than anyone else could someday become the person you hate more than anyone else. I found the book a bit off-putting in spots, although gradually the page-turning elements of it kicked in and I couldn't put it down. Director David Fincher now brings Gone Girl to the screen, with the author doing her own adaptation. It's magic.

The couple in question are Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike). They meet and marry at a very good time in both their lives, but trouble starts once they leave New York and move to Missouri so Nick can care for his ailing mother. Amy, the daughter of wealthy author parents who created a best-selling children's book series based on her, is controlling and manipulative. Nick gets into a bit of a funk after they have financial troubles, and starts lounging around playing videogames. The two don't seem able to meet each other's needs anymore. In fact, they don't seem to understand each other's needs.

Then Nick comes home one day to find the living room torn apart. Amy is missing, presumably kidnapped. A police detective (Kim Dickens) gets involved. Vigils, press conferences, and search parties are put together. Through it all, Nick seems not as torn apart by his wife's disappearance as he should be. The glare of the media spotlight only intensifies this. Starting to look more and more guilty, he hires attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) to help him turn the tide.

Gone Girl does something I wasn't sure would be possible, which is maintain the book's dual storytelling format. Using moments from past and present, the film paints a picture of the Dunne marriage and how it fell apart. Flashbacks show things starting to go wrong, while current scenes depict the repercussions of what happened during those times. Through it all, we see that Nick and Amy are not very good people. Perhaps they once were, but the poisoning of their marriage turned them into something quite different. Fincher deftly weaves back and forth through different time frames, carefully putting together the pieces in a way that is never confusing and always meaningful. He also hits just the right balance of dysfunctional drama and dark comedy. The way the characters behave is sometimes disturbing, yet there are moments where you can't help but laugh at their incessant selfishness.

In book form, Nick and Amy are utterly detestable people. It's a fundamental part of the story. That was occasionally grating, though. On screen, when portrayed by two really good actors, a little more humanity seeps in. That's not to say the edges are softened, just that these individuals feel more identifiable. This is a good thing. Ben Affleck perfectly captures Nick's subtle narcissism, the way he thinks of himself while trying to make it look like he's thinking of others. At the same time, we sense him as a man gone off course, shocked at the unintentional shift he's made in his own personality. Meanwhile, the outstanding Rosamund Pike (who's about to hit the A-list in a big way) brings a ring of truth to Amy's attempts to be the “cool girl,” the one who takes it as a mission to please her husband. Amy gets pissed off having to live like that, and Pike makes the transition flawless. Both stars are fantastic, and they're ably backed by Dickens, Perry, and Carrie Coon, as Nick's sarcastic twin sister.

Gone Girl, in print and on screen, deals with two big subjects. On one level, it's a media satire that looks at the way the press loves to endlessly exploit a scandal. (Missi Pyle is hilarious playing a distinctly Nancy Grace-like character.) On another, it's an examination of how a bad marriage turns people into something they are not. Unhappiness brings out the worst in our personalities, making us behave in ways that we'd otherwise find appalling. The movie preserves the depth those ideas had on the page. Flynn has done a marvelous job adapting her own story, narrowing it down a bit without losing the multi-layered quality that made it so absorbing. For his part, Fincher keeps the pace tight. Even at two-and-a-half hours, Gone Girl moves like a race car, masterfully weaving us through a captivating mystery that twists and turns in unexpected fashion. This is one of the smartest, most precisely observed portraits of a relationship to hit the screen in the last decade, and also one of the best whodunnits.

One or two minor things could have been expanded upon (Amy's parents are much more crucial figures than the film lets on), but by and large, what makes Gone Girl special is its fearlessness. It stares into the dark heart of a bad relationship and never blinks. Marriage is great when you're with the right person for the right reasons. If you're with the right person for the wrong reasons, or with the wrong person for the wrong reasons, it can be torturous. The mystery plot hooks you, but the insight into toxic relationships is what will make Gone Girl haunt you – and perhaps make you take pains to appreciate your spouse a little more.

( 1/2 out of four)

Gone Girl is rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language. The running time is 2 hours and 29 minutes.

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