There are some people who get a genuine thrill out of films about perfect–or at least near-perfect–relationships, played out with the help of a conflict that’s not really a conflict, some dreamy conclusion set to a pop song and two actors as pretty as this manufactured fairytale. This people will have a big problem–nay, big problems–with Gone Girl, perhaps the most cynical, snarling romance of recent times.
I am not one of those people, however. I am the girl who counts Blue Valentine and Take This Waltz–two love stories with not very lovely endings–as her favourite relationship films. So when I heard about Gone Girl, the book, I was immediately intrigued, wondering how this supposedly warped tale of a woman gone missing and her husband, the main murder suspect, would wrap ever so messily. And when I actually got around to reading it, I fell harder than I expected, coming out perhaps a tad scarred, but exhilarated at what I had endured alongside this couple I both loved and hated.
I tucked these memories under my arm as I walked into a screening of David Fincher’s Gone Girl on Thursday, and I almost wish I hadn’t. Because doing did colour my opinion of Fincher’s vision of Gillian Flynn’s script, adapted fairly faithfully, tone-wise (there are a few characters and plot points missing, probably cut to keep Fincher’s already rambling runtime in check), from her book. But only slightly.
While Ben Affleck is likely to get praise pushed on him like an unwanted Frito pie at a search party, his take on ex-writer, current professor (educationally, not emotionally) and possible wife killer Nick Flynn isn’t everything it could be. There is an innate likeability to Affleck and it comes through even as Nick does bad thing after bad thing. The superbly wicked part about Nick in the book is that you never quite sympathize with him, despite his dank situation. And it’s because he never shows he can do the same for anyone else, whether that be his wife, his sister, his father, his in-laws or the strong-willed detective determined to prove his innocence. Affleck’s Nick, however, seems to at least feel something towards his family, even his formerly absent (emotionally) dad, who acts an ongoing omen for the guy in the original tale.
Luckily, most of the other actors seem game to play their macabre parts, particularly Neil Patrick Harris as secondary suspect and former high school flame of Amy’s, Desi Collings. Tyler Perry also works well as polished lawyer Tanner Bolt, nailing the smarmy charm of big shot criminal law professionals we see plastered on the news every time the next O.J. Simpson is named. And there’s also solid work from the actresses playing the two mainly platonic women in Nick’s life (twin sister Margo and detective Rhonda Boney): Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens. But the real prize at the end of this scandalous scavenger hunt of a film is the “Girl” herself, Rosamund Pike.
Not only does Pike look exactly like what Amys–rich blonde girls living off daddy and mom’s trust fund and almost too good-looking to handle- should look like on their best day, she also has the ability to be frightening vulnerable. Through her, not Affleck, you start to truly see the cracks in this superficially picture-perfect romance, as Amy’s diary entries uncover a whole bunch of memories–good and awful–of Nick and Amy as an entity. Whether she’s playing lovesick for Nick and their starter donut sugar-covered days or genuinely sick at what they’ve become, Pike works hard to sell the broken part of this marriage, making you wonder if maybe Nick really did do that thing.
I will admit, however, that Pike’s best moment might not even be with Affleck, but rather Harris. This scene may go down as one of the most divisive parts of the film for many reasons. But the chillingly stark way it captures the unstill stillness of Amy’s world is brilliant.
Where Fincher truly does succeed with Gone Girl is in his grimacing visuals, which somewhat echo, but hold more weight than those seen in his other recent work (The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Call it pathetic fallacy or just plain style, but aside from Pike and the dark humour sprinkled in the script, his choices in dim lighting and greyscale backgrounds are the most Gone Girl parts of this Gone Girl. They are, like many troubled romances and Flynn’s interpretation of them, lacking in any semblance of genuine spark and yet, they fuel many fires to come. And these fires may burn in your memories for quite some time too, as that fictional couple you thought looked all-too-perfect two hours prior peel back their masks and reveal their true selves, and a jarring Trent Reznor score creeps up on you in the background like a jilted lover with an axe to grind in your throat.