When Amy Elliot Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a cool blonde preternaturally poised Manhattanite, vanishes from her Midwestern McMansion, the police – and the rapacious media – rapidly suspect her bartender husband. Amy is the image of wealthy American perfection made flesh. She’s the woman you want to emulate, but not the one you want to be friends with. As Amy’s husband Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) describes her to the police, “she’s complicated,” – or, as his sister translates: “she’s a bitch.” Nick, on the other hand, is a dislikeabley good-looking failed writer who co-owns a bar and teaches creative writing on the side.
Gone Girl spent 71 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller list and sold 6 million copies in hardcover before it even became a paperback. Now, David Fincher has turned literary darling Gillian Flynn’s novel into a greatly anticipated film.
Gone Girl the novel’s strength is its twisty, ingenious plot (which is refreshingly unpredictable provided you haven’t heard too many spoilers) and biting characterization. The story is told through Nick’s thoughts and Amy’s diary. Their words so readily capture the disintegration of their marriage that Gone Girl seems like the story of people just down the street.
Shortly after Amy and Nick Dunne lose their jobs at New York magazines – a real-life fate author Gillian Flynn shared with many journalists when the American newspaper business fell apart in 2008-2009 — Nick’s mother develops cancer. The couple move back to his home-town in Missouri — an unsophisticated economically-depressed backwater that Amy refuses to embrace — and discontent sets in.
Amy and Nick settle into a soulless housing development: they dwell in an expansive home with glossy curved bannisters, coffered ceilings, marble counter-tops, and stainless steel appliances. Beautiful but emotionally vacant. Amy hates it – this depersonalised suburb represents everything the trust funder sneers at. “This isn’t good enough for you?” Nick demands. “It’s not even close,” Amy shouts back. Amy is now broke and trapped in her own nightmare.
Neither Nick nor Amy are likeable but their circumstances touch upon the same restive undercurrent as American Beauty – both capture the malaise of suburban America. People who, once they achieve the modern-day equivalent of a white-picket fence residence, find themselves saddled with monotonous jobs, hour-plus commutes, little leisure time, and, perhaps, an undefinable angst.
Consequently, it seems only fitting to see the film adaptation of Gone Girl in a new suburban movie complex, which as a bonus is only about ten minutes from where Ben Affleck grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The complex is in one of the planned “downtown-esque” shopping malls popping up around the American suburbs – New Urbanism as some call it. This is the type of place with designer outlet stores and trendy upscale chain restaurants. The kind of dining establishments with copper birch-tree wallpaper, mixologists, and booming club music that almost let thirty-something yuppies with toddlers in tow forget they now live in the suburbs. A Saturday night transference of pre-packaged hipness – for only the price of a “local cuisine” dinner.
While I’m seated in the movie theater’s red leathery chairs, I notice it isn’t the standard group of teenage boys in baggy jeans. It’s all couples between 30-50 years old, a demographic not known for movie attendance. But, the Gone Girl showings are sold out two nights in a row.
Although the film is told from Nick’s point of view, from the outset it’s not clear he’s innocent. All the classic elements of domestic abuse are present. The police find signs of struggle at Nick’s home, traces of Amy’s blood, and a smashed coffee table.
Amy’s parents – who cannibalized her childhood by turning each life passage into a children’s book — descend on the town like khaki-clad vultures. They set up press conferences and highly publicized FindAmazingAmy websites that simultaneously raise awareness of their missing progeny while covertly promoting their books.
Dysfunctional families, bad parenting, decaying relationships: these are the pillars of Flynn’s worlds. In some ways, it’s all very 1980s but she makes it work in a satisfying way. Like Flynn’s other books, notably Sharp Objects, much of Gone Girl’s appeal lies in Flynn’s characters who articulate unpleasant insights that reverberate long after we close the book.
Unfortunately, although the film showcases the toxic relationships, the characters’ insight that made Flynn’s novel so satisfying is gone. Private thoughts and unspoken observances are tough to capture on the silver screen. Worse, the film’s deadly slow pace makes you forget you’re even watching a thriller. Fincher misses opportunities to scare or excite us. By the two-thirds mark, you start to feel every second of the film’s 2 hour, 25 minute run time.
When the film ended, the movie theater was silent. Was this because the film struck a chord with the suburban Boston audience sitting beside me in the theater? Possibly. But, so much of the brilliance of Flynn’s book was abandoned on the page that it’s hard to say whether they didn’t just find it slow and hollow.
Numerous Amazon reviewers hated the novel’s ending. If you share this view and heard the movie ends differently, you’ll be disappointed. The changes are insignificant to the story overall.
Is this film worth seeing? Maybe. Although it certainly beats the standard comic-book derivatives being glopped out to us, it stalls at the beginning, takes forever to get going, and fizzles out at the climax. You might want to read the novel and rent the video later. Unless, of course, you just want a night out in the suburbs.
Jamie Adair is a Boston-based writer who loves the Wars of the Roses and medieval history. She has a degree in History and a degree in Rhetoric and Professional Writing.