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Gone Girl, Book and Movie Reviews (spoilers in second part)

October 8, 2014

I’ll be very clear when I’m about to get into spoiler territory.

I recently read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn with a book club, and I loved every page of it.  It falls under the header of “psychological thriller,” but it makes other psychological thrillers look as if they’re barely skimming the surface of their characters.  Gone Girl keeps diving deeper and deeper into its characters and teaches us, at the end, no matter how much we’re told, we’ll never truly understand what goes on in another person’s head.  I found it immensely more satisfying than books that rely on the thrill the further the book goes on.

The book, if you haven’t already heard, is about Nick Dunne and his wife Amy, and alternates perspectives using first person, journal entries, and letters.  Amy disappears early on in the book.  As we learn more about Nick, we have to decide whether he’s a killer.  We watch public perception turn on him.  People who write about this book discuss Nancy Grace, and I don’t know who that is (so I hope I got her name right) but the idea of the media assigning guilt or innocence before a court case is well-known to the viewing audience.

The movie feels like we’re more stably with Nick than the head-delving we get in the book.  Amy’s journal entries in the book feel like journal entries, like Amy’s voice.  In the movie, they are very much flashbacks.  Ben Affleck’s Nick is almost perfect, and any lack in his performance is entirely the script’s fault, for while the script sticks close to the book, I don’t think it sticks closely enough.  So much is dropped for the screen, and I understand why and I can’t fault the changes; the movie stands without them.  But we lose something.

I wondered, coming out of this movie, if I could say one way or another whether it was good or not good.  I found I could not.  I was far too close to the source material.  This is why I don’t reread before movies.  I analyzed, rather than watched, the movie, and my enjoyment wasn’t lessened for it but I don’t think I could extrapolate from my experience what someone who hasn’t read the book will get from it.  This is why when I watch adaptations, I usually do so with my husband.  But the movie is getting a lot of praise, especially for Rosamund Pike as Amy.  Again, a performance that is almost perfect thanks to the script.  But I only know that because I’ve read the book.

Okay, you know what?  I’m out of things to say that wouldn’t ruin the experience of the book and movie.  Most of the things I have to say relate to the plot.  If you haven’t read it already, read it.  If you haven’t seen it already…maybe you should?  I can’t say.  I think so, though.  It’s quite beautiful, a little graphic, and twisted.

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So, if you’ve read the book and/or seen the movie, you can follow along.  If you haven’t, but you really like spoilers, let me lay it out for you: Amy’s disappearance is Amy’s doing.  This is as clear in the movie as it is in the book.  And movie Amy is quite the sociopath.  But she’s nowhere near the sick and twisted thing she is in the book.  Movie Nick never gets to have the layers and depth as book Nick, but in both, he cheats and he lies to everyone, even his beloved bff/twin sister Margo (Go).  But he’s not a killer.  Until the point where he could be.

First off, let me talk about the cast, specifically what I liked and what I didn’t.  The movie is so well-cast, you want to hug someone.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie so well-cast from the book.  Affleck, as I read in the comments of a review somewhere, has A Face You Want to Punch, and that works really well for Nick.  He’s the kind of guy you shouldn’t fall for, but you get why your best friend would, because he’s nice-looking and charming, but maybe there isn’t really that much there, and you shouldn’t pin your hopes on that.  Frankly, it made me a little more interested in Batfleck, because Nick is like the poor man’s Bruce Wayne.  (But not Batman.  Never, ever Batman.)

Pike as Amy is utterly wasted part of the time.  Movie Amy doesn’t have the depth that book Amy does, and Pike isn’t giving her all because Amy’s not allowed to be her all.  But God, when Pike is allowed to show you exactly who Amy is—her immediate transformation for Desi and, more important, that goddamn smile in the hospital room.  ONE SMILE, and you just want to hand her an Oscar.  That smile chilled my blood, and yet…it was so BEAUTIFUL, maybe we should just believe her…?  No, no, no, we can’t.  We never can.

Speaking of wasted, Desi.  Desi’s role is cut down so far to be almost nothing.  His mother is gone, which is too bad.  I didn’t feel like an extra couple of minutes would’ve hurt anything.  Neil Patrick Harris is a beautiful Desi, half-savior, half-nightmare, and he owns one or two scenes, but he never falls into Desi’s skin, in the way Pike doesn’t always feel like Amy.  (Pike’s Cool Girl isn’t cool enough for me.)  He doesn’t show us enough of Desi’s privilege, of Desi’s darkness.  The movie seems to posit that Amy, having been burned once, might just be…maybe…overreacting?  In the book, that is not true at all.

Next up: Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt.  I’m sad to lose Bolt’s wife from the movie–again, A WHOLE MINUTE’s worth of information lost, really? is that necessary?–but this is the first movie that I’ve ever seen Tyler Perry in and I enjoyed every moment of him.  He made me smile.  I warmed to him, character and actor, immediately.  He charmed me–the way Amy should’ve charmed me, I guess.

Andie looks and acts like a teenager who thinks she’s an adult.  Good casting.

The parents weren’t recognizable to me and they’re serviceable in these parts, but again, cut so much.  We don’t get their intense love for one another.  Instead, they’re just this unit, which is important to the movie, but you lose the stress Amy’s under to feel like her marriage has to live up to theirs.  We also don’t get the deep, deep betrayal of the way they take Amy’s trust fund.

Carrie Coon’s Go is pretty much my new bff.  Loved her.  Every second of her.

Missi Pyle and Sela Ward as opposing journalists, underused but still so good.

Noelle, solid acting.

Nick’s dad, woefully underused.  How can we understand Nick’s struggle without his dad?

Patrick Fugit, I missed you so much!  I wanted to hug you through the screen.

Kim Dickens, the middle class Amy Adams, I always think you’re Amy Adams until you speak, and then I realize you aren’t.  You’re far too pretty to be playing Boney, but that’s okay because you’re very talented and made Rhonda your own.  Boney and Fugit get some extra time compared the book (look, it’s not SO much extra time that I remember his character’s name), and that’s fine with me because they deserve it.  You can’t not use these two, even if it detracts from our perspective.

Okay, that’s the cast.  Now, the plot and all that:

I was completely afraid that because Amy is crazy but not as crazy as in the book, people would miss what’s really going on.  Hell, Movie Bob wrote a whole article on how this movie will be misunderstood, and I think he’s right.  But he also got how crazy Amy was, and I was afraid that wasn’t going to translate to someone who hadn’t read the book.  But because movie Amy isn’t the same kind of crazy as book Amy, you end up getting different messages.  Movie Amy, it could be argued, was a damaged chick that marriage drove crazier.  Book Amy has been fucked up since the get-go.

We’re also given a sympathetic version of Amy that feels real early on.  I know that early Amy is a creation of crazy Amy, but the fact that she talks about the Amazing Amy books and how Amazing Amy one-upped her tells us early on that this Amy is going to be more open from the get-go.  We don’t get her true feelings on Amazing Amy until later.  Yes, she mopes a little in her journal over the things she tells Nick in the movie, but she doesn’t tell Nick this in real life.  Of course she doesn’t.  Her journal is supposed to be the “true” her, and real life Nick would never, ever get that much of her.

They also make Nick far more sympathetic.  He doesn’t always fail the treasure hunt miserably.  He doesn’t disappear for eight months after their first meeting, swearing he washed her number and was really upset about it.  He proposes cute during the Amazing Amy wedding book release, so sweet–whereas in the book he’d just run into her for the first time after that meeting eight months before.

We also don’t get, in this movie, anywhere near Nick’s self-awareness as he shows in the book.  This is pretty clear from the lack of voice-over when we find out about Andie, his student and girlfriend.  In the book, he apologizes in that douchey way that he’s living a cliche and he knows it, so it’s okay, right?  Because he knows it?  It isn’t, but it takes him a while to figure that out.

We lose the backstory on Amy’s dead siblings, all named Hope, and we never quite believe in the movie that killing herself is the option it might be in the book.

We also, sadly, get a truncated version of one of the most amazing quotes in fiction:

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)

I waited patient–years–for the pendulum to swing the other way, for men to start reading Jane Austen, learn how to knit, pretend to love cosmos, organize scrapbook parties, and make out with each other while we leer.  And then we’d say, Yeah, he’s a Cool Guy.

But it never happened.  Instead, women across the nation colluded in our degradation!  Pretty soon Cool Girl became the standard girl.  Men believed she existed–she wasn’t just a dreamgirl one in a million.  Every girl was supposed to be this year, and if you weren’t, then there was something wrong with you.”

We also get truncated versions of the treasure hunt notes.  We miss that extra layer of Nick being wooed by Amy.  We miss Nick realizing it and feeling trapped–loving what he hears, but knowing she’s playing him, and this is what sets up Go realizing that Nick doesn’t WANT to leave Amy at the end.  When she says it in the movie, you’re like, “Uh, really?”  But in the book, brilliant Amy has played him in such a way that he knows he’ll never be known this way again.  We can see how Andies, while ego-boosting, will eventually bore him.

And that’s the problem with this movie.  You take these things out and you’ve got a movie about marriage, except one of these people is a cheating douche, and the other is a sociopath.  That’s not half as interesting as the book, which is not about marriage but two sociopaths, who may or may not deserve each other; who may or may not destroy each other.

You are supposed to feel so sorry for movie Nick in that last scene, that sad-sack Nick, who ISN’T writing the book on his wife, just as she’s ferociously writing about him.  Amy “won.”  In the book, when Amy returns, Nick begs her to be as open to him as he is to her, he KNOWS her now, they can be themselves, they can be together, and Amy won’t do it.  She won’t drop her facade.  In the movie, the shower scene, she seems all too willing to give him everything.

I’ve seen Amy referred to in more than one place as “an MRA’s wet dream.”  The Mary Sue writes about it well here. What it’s too easy to miss in the movie is that the faked rapes are how women readers know Amy is a sociopath.  It’s one of the most appalling moments in the book, as a female reader, to see how far Amy is willing to go.  I mean, personally I can’t even imagine hitting a guy in the balls.  I just don’t know what that’s like, so I’ve never purposely done it.  Amy would find that “cute.”  And by “cute” I mean loathe-worthy.

Oh, and we lost her female victim too, which really just adds to that.  Really, we lose so much by losing Amy’s interaction with women.  We never see her with Go, and therefore never get to feel like Go’s got the right or wrong impression of her.  Which makes sense, as all the flashbacks are Amy’s perspective, but if you’re going to take out everything else, with her high school friend/stalker and her hatred of her NYC girlfriends, you’d think we’d at least get that.  Especially since we’re allowed to get more Boney time.

Still, we get Desi’s murder on-screen, and that’s a sight to behold.  I’m pretty sure I heard at least one gasp in the theater, but I was so busy immersed in the scene I couldn’t be sure.  We get to see things come to life that is the very reason we all go see adaptations in the first place: the creepy, closed-down mall; and Desi’s “lake house”; and The Sugar Kiss.

But honestly, if they’d put it all in, I wouldn’t have stirred from my seat.  I would’ve watched it all.  And I think the other people in the theater would have too.  And I would’ve left more content.  And Pike wouldn’t even have competition during the Oscars.

…Okay, so I’d probably watch it again right now if someone paid for my movie ticket.  Just don’t ask me if it was good.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. telaina permalink
    October 31, 2014 9:04 am

    I honestly wondered how on earth they were going to adapt it and I expected the movie to fail. I mean not financially. Just with the nuances of the book. I was surprised how well it worked. I agree about the casting. Amazing.

  2. telaina permalink
    October 31, 2014 9:06 am

    Reblogged this on Catch Up and commented:
    A really great analysis of the Gone Girl movie.

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