Thursday, February 19, 2015

Gone Girl Review - Gone Girl Gone Wild

As my friends and I watched David Fincher's exceptional 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn's hit novel Gone Girl, one thought kept repeating in my mind:
that poor cat

While the movie is a good, twisty story, and while Fincher's direction remains superb, there are three likable characters here: Rhonda Boney, the lead detective (Kim Dickens, whose work in Deadwood I missed, but I've loved her since Zero Effect); Margo, the lead male's sister (Carrie Coon, who I'd never seen before); and that glorious feline up there, who I will call "Mrs. Featherswat."

And repeatedly, I hoped that the movie would have the gorgeous, well-balanced, smart, capable Margo adjust her hot librarian glasses (that's what I call that style), scoop Mrs. Featherswat up in her arms, and that we'd next see them on a beach. Margo would open a new, popular bar, free from her moronic, thuggish douche of a brother and her needy, bonkers, sociopathic murderess sister-in-law. Mrs. Featherswat would pass the time by laying in the sun, catching fish, maybe starting a family...

But that was not meant to be.

Gone Girl is the story of a 40-odd day marital saga that becomes a nationwide craze. What was supposed to be an unhappy couple's anniversary turns into a nightmare, as Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) comes home to a missing Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and much broken furniture (what will Ikea think?). The police get involved, and evidence quickly suggests that Nick killed Amy. The story becomes sensationalized, as Amy is a/k/a "Amazing Amy" (basically, what if Dora the Explorer were her parents' book series, with Amy pitched as their inspiration). Secrets about the marriage continue to spill out, Nick looks more and more culpable, and everyone grapples with two big questions: why is Amy missing, and did Nick murder her?

The film is frequently satirical: The ludicrousness of TV "news" that's more tabloid entertainment than journalistic information. The idea that anyone "must do" a nighttime Barbara Walters-type interview, must get a defense attorney when not accused of a crime, or needs public approval/redemption. People who ask for a selfie with a victim, then claim offense. There are lots of targets here - humanity, both genders, modern society, people with specific types of obsessions or character flaws or blind-spots or prejudgments (including both the Midwest and people who look down on it), institutions...

It's great that Gone Girl feels so strongly like a pulp novel. The general failure of humanity to be decent or mature gives it a nice alternate-universe (I hope) vibe, and let me sink into this overall misanthropy without being directly offended. It's a world with a few upfront and minimal-buls--t people surrounded by folks capable of any stupid nastiness. I swear, in s GG world, if a dad looks at his daughter top to bottom and smiles as if pleased, it wouldn't be because he's proud of his work at raising someone or his offspring's achievements; it would be for a far uglier reason. Think: an episode of CSI.

Speaking of: the work's humor is so modern, cynical, and representative of its time that it reminded me of Fight Club. Amy talks about a young woman's body with a vicious bitterness that's betrayed by the fact that Rosamund Pike's backside looks like she does hot yoga in her sleep. Some newscaster makes an offensive suggestion about a pair of fraternal twins - a perfectly modern, American "I'm gonna assume it's something nasty" dick move. It's followed, without missing a beat, by someone turning to a friend and snarking a brand new portmanteau - "Twincest!"

They're the same "wow you went there" jests that had Ed Norton and Helena Bonham Carter call a cancer patient "Meryl" because she looks like a horribly-ill Meryl Streep... in support groups both actors' parts are illicitly attending. It's comedy like that - the comedy of people who are dissociated from reality and don't have enough problems in their lives, so freely invent problems or claims ones they can't relate to - that made me keep Fight Club a little at arm's length... it's galling, like school kids on public transportation talking loudly about sex.

Some of the hyper-modern self-aware humor, both dry and wet and sad and raucous, comes in the form of how terribly-functional-yet-cripplingly-f'ed-up Pike's Amy Dunne is. Part of it comes from Ben Affleck playing a husband who isn't just out of touch with his wife, he's in "are you sure you're married to the person we're talking about" territory.

Yes, a--hole, you're likely her primary healthcare contact, and are married for life, so you should know what f--king blood type she needs.

So, once a-f--king-gain, David Fincher made a film that's incredibly intelligent, and of its time, and full of dark/satirical/what an a--hole humor. And, once a-f--king-gain, it looks beautiful (Fincher excels at setups and movement), and nails its pacing, dialogue, and score. But there comes a dividing line between movies that I appreciate and respect, and movies that I enjoy.

This picture was incredibly well-made. And, I actually did enjoy it. Yet, as I wrote above, the characters here are generally unlikable people. In fact, I only think I left out "Tanner Bolt" - the attorney with the porn-star name who's preemptively called in to keep Nick Dunne out of jail. But, hey, even as a lawyer, I'm gonna say that it's fair to also dislike Tanner... partly because no one really likes lawyers, generally, and partly because Bolt's actions help keep his client out of jail - yet they don't combat, and instead merely handle, the cycle of public spectacle bulls--t that his client has to go through in the first place. Also, he's played by Tyler Perry, whose directorial efforts are atrocious.

In short: it's a story about people with totally made-up, manageable problems, and because they almost all suck as human beings and don't seem very talented at anything, I don't find them engaging once the film is done. GG is not about the kind of people I am interested in.

One of the things that impressed me the most is that this movie feels kind of like a novel. There is a lot of setting up of characters, atmosphere, and tone. The biggest novelistic hallmark for me, though, was that Gone Girl packs a whole lot of incident into its story. Forget the fact that Gillian Flynn was hired to help adapt her own book; I think this element would've been in Fincher's work no matter what - if only because it fits in with his general style.

Yet I wasn't surprised to hear that one of my sisters-in-law hated this pic. She's worked very hard all her life, while the Dunnes are people who lose their jobs and then barely seem to try to find a new one. God, they don't even seem to struggle so much as they wallow in their unhealthiness. And, ultimately, Gone Girl is about a total lying scumbag of a husband who's married to a wife that's likely to do a series of horrible things because she won't resort to better options.

My second post on GG will definitely include more of this monologue.

How are you supposed to feel when each of the leads - people alternately positioned as both antagonist and protagonist - are the kinds of fictitious persons that could die in a (fictitious) fire and you wouldn't weep? What keeps you going here is the twisty mystery-style storyline, the various plots, the humor, and the quality of the filmmaking.

This is why I can only champion Margo and Mrs. Featherswat: no matter how much I respect and appreciate David Fincher's work here, I don't like this - this world, these people, or their story - enough to want to dwell in GG's persepective.

I'll tell you right here and now that I need another post in order to discuss some thoughts that should only be read by people who have seen Gone Girl already. There are really a lot of issues and ideas to address here, and I want to keep whatever I write separate from a review of this as a motion picture.

All I can tell you is that I was dumbstruck when the credits rolled and one of my viewing partners asked me what I thought of the movie. She was far ahead of me, having read the book and seen the pic already. Meanwhile, I thought the actors', editors', and Fincher's work was fine, yet felt as confused as Peter Graves' famous Captain looks in the first scene of this clip:

In the end, he was under Oveur, and I was still over Dunne - Nick and Amy Dunne. Two people too immature and irresponsible to just get a divorce and/or therapy once they stopped acting like adults; they both suck donkeyb--ls, so I hope she goes to prison and he just has a relentlessly unhappy life. I'll see you in Aruba, Margo and Mrs. Featherswat...


  1. I plan to see the movie soon(most likely this weekend) and have already read the book, so I know a little something about the twists that the story takes. I won't get spoilery, so I will just comment on your general feeling about the two leads.

    Many people find unlikable main characters,whether in books, TV or film, to be difficult to relate to, and while they might enjoy the plot, really want to have someone to root for that isn't a complete jerk/creep/sociopath. There's nothing wrong with that but sometimes, the whole point of the story is not about finding a "good guy/gal".

    That all depends on how well the tale is told, a good example in my opinion is The Usual Suspects, where just about everyone has an angle and the one person who appears to be the lesser of all evils is far from that. I recall watching that film when it first came out in theaters and laughing with wicked glee at the final revelation. Yes, the true bad guy got away but with such finesse that it made the entire story,with it's unreliable narrative, worth seeing through to the end.

    I am surprised that Gone Girl didn't get any Academy love, other than Rosemund Pike up for Best Actress(don't think she'll win). At the very least, Gillian Flynn should have been up for Best Adapted Screenplay but maybe the dark cynicism behind the story was too much for the voters this year.

    1. Thanks, lady t! You're dead right that we don't need our characters to be truly good people - or even thoroughly-likable - but it almost becomes like a mystery story where you're not engaged n the mystery.

      We're left with a very interesting series of events involving people that are only marginally interesting - Nick's cleverness and eventual manipulation of the system he's stuck in, Amy's sheer intelligence and ability to do whatever she has to do...

      I agree that Flynn likely should've gotten some Oscar love, but the real odd absence is Fincher, who deserves a Best Director nod for this - along with most of his work, frankly. The man is exceptional.

  2. I loved the character of Amy - in how bravely and edgy she was written and how many awful, outdated, misogynous standards still kept alive today she challenged. I couldn't for the life of me figure why she would want to be with Nick but then it hit me when I was reading the book - amy wanted the control and Nick was he perfect victim she could parade as 'perfect husband' so that people would envy her. I wrote two posts on this one too, there is just too much going on

  3. Thanks, sati! I also think she's very well-written. I don't know how many standards she challenged, as some of her traits are sort of expected from NYC's educated, upper-middle class women (namely her intelligence, tenacity, and being able to have something of a tough attitude).

    I hadn't considered Nick as her trophy husband, much less her perfect victim (although the case for that is made towards the last section of the story). I'll definitely enjoy thinking about that before I write a second post about the movie...

    And hahahha, you wrote like 7 posts about GG! And I'm going to link to ALL of them in that followup entry I'm working on. No matter what, I do truly appreciate that this movie has given us and others so much to talk about. That in itself is pretty impressive.


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