“Why should I die? I’m not the a$$hole.” Gone Girl (film review)

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Bruise black social satire or toxic tragedy (or both) of the fallacious state of American marriage, David Fincher’s dark film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s dark best-selling novel Gone Girl is compelling and timely, but, at least for this viewer, not as visionary nor as iconoclastic as its hype would suggest.

Doesn’t mean it’s not a crackerjack film, but the ideas herein have been covered in many (and sometimes better) ways. While watching the 2.5 hour flick, I thought often of such clammy classics as The Children’s Hour, Vertigo, Charade, The Days of Wine and Roses, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Double Indemnity and even (arguably) lesser works like The War of the Roses, Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, and Body Double. Heck, I even sense a bit of The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible in Gone Girl‘s DNA.

However, what this new entry in mind-f*ck cinema does very well is distill all those disparate influences into a saucy, curdled stew of …

  • the petty evils spouses exact on each other
  • the caustic calcification of love gone wrong
  • the thorny economic necessity of the institution called marriage
  • the disastrous poisons that egomaniacal pursuit of outside adoration and praise introduces into the delicate private workings of any relationship
  • our present-day/post-OJ world of “he said/she said” criminal psychodrama
  • the preening desire of us Gen X’ers to glibly document our every thought, feeling, and deed
  • and social climbing run amok in a Recession-blighted era of unfunded McMansions, too many babies, and too little compassion.

Whew! And Flynn, efficiently and effectively adapting her own novel, partners beautifully with Fincher (for at least the film’s first half) in dangling delicious uncertainty before us. For those unfamiliar with the novel, in essence, Flynn has created a black comedy out of our TMZ/Perez Hilton/Nancy Grace-fueled penchant to celebrate, devour, abandon, and repeat on a 24/7 news cycle prurient stories of philandering spouses who murder each other, their children, or their neighbors or who seemingly evaporate into thin air, only to be found months later in someone’s basement, the bottom of a river, or hanging out at a shopping mall food court.

The “gone girl” in question – Amy – is expertly portrayed by Rosamund Pike (Pride and Prejudice, Jack Reacher) in a super-tricky performance (is she dead? is she alive? what is/was she up to?) that somehow invokes a lot of Cate Blanchett with a sprinkling of Kelly McGillis, Kathleen Turner, Grace Kelly, and Kim Novak. Amy vanishes (amidst broken glass and blood splatters) from the plastic-perfect home she shares with husband Nick (Ben Affleck being perfectly typecast for his prototypical Ben Affleck-iness) the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary.

The first half of the film tracks Nick’s many media, social, and other political missteps as evidence mounts, pointing to him as the likely culprit. Y’see, Amy and Nick, being sickening hipster fancy-pants, have played a “cute” game annually where she leaves him little riddles and clues to his anniversary present and sends him on a “darling” goose chase to figure out what “artisanal” surprise she has in store. So, this year, said clues take Nick (and his new friends, the police) closer and closer to a grotesque image of domestic brutality and potential murder.

But then, the movie reaches the halfway mark, and everything we thought we knew is turned sideways. I don’t want to spoil any of the fun, but, both Pike and Affleck do a splendid job offering characters as unlikable as they are relatable. At one point, Pike intones during her narration of events, “Why should I die? I’m not the a$$hole.”

They are supported by a strong cast that all neatly walk that fine line between dramatic potboiler and broad satire: an oily Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s possibly sadistic ex, an even oilier Tyler Perry as Nick’s defense attorney, Saturday Night Live-alum Casey Wilson as a delightfully wackadoodle neighbor, Missi Pyle as an even wackadoodlier TV shock news host, and stage vets Carrie Coon as Nick’s long-suffering sister and David Clennon and Lisa Banes as Amy’s media-whoring parents. Trent Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’ slithering score is a character unto itself, providing the perfect note (pun intended) of menace throughout.

Fincher is so good at creating a claustrophobic world where tension and humor come from familiarity and contempt. I adored The Social Network and Fight Club, and Gone Girl nearly approaches the dizzying fever dreams those films crisply achieved. Alas, the film (and Pike) are burdened with a third act that veers away from the Hitchockian to the Verhoeven-ian. Amy’s narrative has a sharp post-feminism lilt for much of the film but devolves into vagina dentata foolishness in the film’s final moments. To me, that was disappointing, if not inevitable in our misogynistic day and age.

Maybe I’m just a killjoy, but when both characters are as believably rotten as Nick and Amy, let’s not default to the old poor henpecked hubby trope with a dose of Rosemary’s Baby-bait-and-switch as an otherwise fine dark satire rumbles to its denouement.

Like last fall’s superior PrisonersGone Girl aims to say something profound about the “little pink houses for you and me” that provide cold comfort when we are faced with the violent horrors those closest to us can callously inflict. Yet, Gone Girl falls short. In this current moment, when people are withholding marriage from one group by claiming its sanctity for another, Gone Girl is just the poison pill our hyperbolic national debate needs. I just wish the film or the book (or both) had had the courage to see its dark thesis through to the story’s final frames.

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Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.

My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

25 thoughts on ““Why should I die? I’m not the a$$hole.” Gone Girl (film review)

  1. Great review. I saw this today. I must admit, I was disappointed even though I still thought it was well executed and well cast. Rosamund Pike was phenomenal! Something about it was too even, not enough highs and lows. But I also read the book so knew what was coming, so it’s hard to say. Loved the book more.

  2. i loved your dark review of this dark story, especially the first paragraph. i read the book and am interested in seeing how it has been translated on screen. too bad it seems a bit off, in print, it was a great see-saw of back and forth twists and emotions.

    • yeah, I suspect it is missing that see-saw toward the end – it’s there for the first two-thirds, but toward the end Amy becomes a low-rent Sharon Stone/Basic Instinct-knock-off

      On Sun, Oct 5, 2014 at 11:37 AM, Reel Roy Reviews wrote:

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  4. okay, what do I know? I loved the entire treatment from beginning to conclusion? and the cast will be discussing THEIR EFFORTS Monday evening ’round the Charlie Rose table! saw a sneak preview of such. and perfectly cast Ben attempts to be all cerebral as a panelist and misses the mark just like his character (or lack of it?) does in the film. that lead girl was stunning to the max…she won me over…and I understood her motivations and nearly every move she made? am I naughty? so be it…womankind is forever in an uphill struggle across the board…an ongoing human tragedy finally captured either via the novel (unread by me), this film (viewed by me) or Rosamund herself…this review is AMAZING….

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I did too, and, as we discussed on the phone, it’s not that I disliked the last third, but I just didn’t know what to make of it. Your comments help. I thought she was superb. And I hope she is justly rewardedfor her work. And I do agree in that I understood and appreciated her motives as well. I suspect that’s why the book and the movie or as popular as they are, though people may be loathe to admit why

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      • bingo! it is a shallow piece…like a comic book…but the depth of the idea of leveling the “playing” field is not to be taken lightly…the major players contributed zilch on the rose show…afraid of their own ideas? the silly repetitious nudity hurt the film…and diluted the eventual scene with doogie baby! would have brought the movie down to reasonable length had they forgone those scenes BTW!

      • Spot on! I agree 100%! I would’ve enjoyed the movie a lot more if they remained as arch throughout as they were in the beginning, cut the nudity, didn’t try to apologize for Affleck’s character, and made the damn thing 20 minutes shorter

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  6. I stopped reading mid-way so I don’t spoil it. I wasn’t going to go see this movie, until I read this. You make it sound a lot more interesting that the movie previews have made it out to be. Now…to wait for it to be released on digital.

      • It’s funny, last night my dad called to describe an ‘award movie’. He was rambling about plot lines and all the holes in them when I finally recognized he was talking about Gone Girl. I had to politely shut him up so he wouldn’t spoil the ‘surprise’ for me. Apparently I will have to be on my toes to avoid this happening.

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