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Emily Blunt Deserves Better

‘The Girl on the Train’ is the actress’s rocky first step into superstardom — so here’s what she should do next

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

Friday marks the release of The Girl on the Train, Emily Blunt’s promising-trailer-having thriller based on the best-selling novel, Laura Prepon Is My Landlord and She Lets Me Do Whatever I Want — itself inspired by the award-winning 21st-century art installation, THEROUX. (I think that’s right.)

The film is a mess: Like some studio executive watched Gone Girl and thought, “Pretty good movie … but I wish we’d spent more time at Neil Patrick Harris’s fuck lodge.” The Girl on the Train is one of those movies that reeks of its source text in the worst possible way — it wants to tuck hardboiled into softcore … but never gets any further than Haley Bennett sleep-acting the book’s paragraphs that have the words “bra” and/or “danger” in them. I will admit to being annoyed by, when Gone Girl first came out, how much credit it got for being a “black comedy.” Is it really that funny? I thought — and I’m still not quite sure. But at least now, after seeing The Girl on the Train, I understand what the joke was. (Showers are middlebrow.)

Blunt, for her part, does fine … though I suspect it won’t matter. This is a movie that seems destined to go down as a whiff for more or less everyone involved.

Which is a real shame. Because, while Emily Blunt has certainly had her fair share of great moments this decade — Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario (let me know if The Five-Year Engagement was good, I turned it off after 3.5 years) — it still feels as though she’s left a few on the table. And for a second, it seemed like The Girl on the Train had a chance to be Emily Blunt’s best moment yet: a genuinely psychological thriller, with pleasures rich and cheap alike — the sort of brainy-yet-pulpy, hard-R, “look at that cast …” post-summer star vehicle that only gets built around … well … a star. It seemed like The Girl on the Train might be the movie that would let Emily Blunt finally grab that spot.

But … it isn’t. So we need a new plan.

Here’s the plan:

(1) Emily Blunt’s American Accent Is Wrong and Bad and She Should Keep It.

When I heard that The Girl on the Train would be an American adaptation, my eyes lit up. “EBAA [that stands for Emily Blunt’s American accent] is back,” I thought.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Emily Blunt uses her normal, elegant British accent in The Girl on the Train. I’m not sure why — but I hope it’s not because she’s gotten negative feedback about her American accent. Because it’s a really good accent.

Well, let me rephrase: Emily Blunt’s American accent feels borrowed and strange. It’s erratic, and often distracting, and usually makes no sense from scene to scene. It sounds like the Wikipedia page for “talking.” It sounds like a short story about two cowboys where at the end, one of the cowboys is like, “I just want to go back to Chicago.” It sounds how an erasable pen writes. It sounds like a stick of butter wearing a hat. It sounds … awful.

I love it.

Emily Blunt’s American accent is a new America, a new me.

And I’ve come to think of it not just as an accent … but almost as, I don’t know: its own little American person — with its own little American life.

Sometimes I like to imagine Emily Blunt’s American accent going to a football game. I don’t even want to think about which team it would root for; it doesn’t matter. It’s more about Emily Blunt’s American accent’s love of the sport. Other times, I like to imagine Emily Blunt’s American accent drinking a Coke. Nothing fancy. Just a classic, ice-cold, domestic Coke. I like to imagine Emily Blunt’s American accent telling someone that the original Office was “too depressing,” and then making small talk about — oh god, what what would it make small talk about — air conditioning, and then, while wearing a surprisingly breathable George Washington costume and singing Beyoncé, setting off a firework that explodes into an apple pie. Sometimes I wonder whom Emily Blunt’s American accent is voting for in this election. Did it watch the debates? I hope it did. This is a significant election — for Emily Blunt’s American accent, but for all of us.

Anyway, wherever Emily Blunt’s American accent is, I like to think that it’s happy. And I hope that it comes back soon, and that Emily Blunt doesn’t get rid of it. It’s too young to be retired, and too important to be forgotten. It’s the accent that has allowed her to credibly play a Missouri farmer with a Remington shotgun, and an FBI agent with a “country bars are the new Tinder” attitude. And we need it back, because — peace to Jane Austen Book Club, peace to Yung Victoria — the only direction I know for Emily Blunt now is forward. Emily Blunt’s American accent is a pretty good way of talking, an extraordinarily sketchy American document, the only thing I’ve ever cared about, a bad idea, a good person, an endless series of wrong that feels right and true.

(2) It’s Time for a Preemptive Singing-Role Intervention.

I’m not saying that Emily Blunt shouldn’t do Marry Poppins Returns. (She should, it’s a good opportunity.) I’m not saying that Emily Blunt should avoid signing on for more musicals after that. (She should still do them, sometimes.) I’m not even saying Emily Blunt isn’t a good singer. (She’s a good singer, and I like it when she sings.) But here’s what I am saying: We have lost beloved actors to the condition known as Singing Thirst before; and we will lose beloved actors to the condition known as Singing Thirst again. And — with this dark and sober reality in mind — I just think that Emily Blunt should … take a deep breath, and make an honest assessment of things. And, if nothing else, realize she is at risk.

A few facts — some might call them warning signs — to consider:

  • Emily Blunt was once in a long-term relationship with Michael Bublé, and sang on one of his songs (“Me and Mrs. Jones”).
  • Emily Blunt starred in “Into the Woods,” which made news in 2014 for breaking Moulin Rouge!’s 13-year-old record and officially becoming Hollywood’s thirstiest collection of actor-singers ever assembled.
  • Emily Blunt’s IMDb trivia features the sentence “Is a strong alto singer.”
  • Emily Blunt’s husband, John Krasinski, is the creator (IDK, IDGI) of the television program Lip Sync Battle. On a recent episode of Lip Sync Battle, Emily Blunt performed the songs “No Diggity” by Blackstreet and “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin.

Again: I love singing. I love Emily Blunt. I love Mary Poppins, and Returns is a verb that pleases me to see come after it. But going forward, let’s just, you know: Be careful. Everything in moderation. Because this is how it starts.

(3) Make Emily Blunt Rude Again.

The Devil Wears Prada is Slightly Underrated Blunt. Maybe that seems silly to say, given that it was her breakout role — and probably remains, for some, the role with which she is most associated. But Emily Blunt isn’t just good in The Devil Wears Prada.

She’s perfect. And I think that Blunt’s Prada performance, in a way, has come to represent a sort of skeleton key: for what has elevated her in the past — and could elevate her again — from the level of “enjoyable screen presence” to the level of “full-on star.” And for me, that key is this: Emily Blunt was born to be rude.

I mean … isn’t it just that simple? Emily Blunt is a very good actor. Think of a mood or emotion — “in love,” “in danger,” “depressed,” “protective,” “curious,” “silly,” “cool,” you name it — and Emily Blunt, to my mind, plays it about as well as any other very good actor.

Except for “rude.”

Emily Blunt plays “rude” better than any actor I’ve ever seen.

I mean this as a huge compliment.

Playing rude is Emily Blunt’s one true genius. It is her higher purpose. Some people were put on earth to cure cancer, or to write fiction, or to blow a 3–1 series lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Emily Blunt was put on earth to play characters who are rude to actors who kind of annoy us. “Rude” is the Emily Blunt Performance’s final form — its magnificent resting place within this intergalactic emotional framework we call life.

The Devil Wears Prada, of course, is the foundational chapter of that form. Anne Hathaway’s Andy is The Worst: repeatedly giving off “I went to Northwestern … the Yale of Illinois. How could I care about fashion?” vibes; bragging about never having read the magazine she is interviewing for a job at, what the hell; and being defensive about her bangs. So Blunt’s Emily is rude to her. It’s cathartic and not that complicated and extremely just.

The second film in Blunt’s Rudeness Trilogy is Looper, a really good movie where Joseph Gordon-Levitt uses a fake tough-guy voice and Emily Blunt points a gun at him and says, “Leave.”

And the third film in Blunt’s Rudeness Trilogy is Edge of Tomorrow, a borderline-great movie where Tom Cruise propositions Emily Blunt for sex (in an, “I definitely am not just pretending to like sex, like, 100 percent I’m not, that just isn’t something I would do — pretend, to like it, I mean” way) and she hits him in the stomach with a robotic crane.

All three of these movies represent Emily Blunt at her best: Finding annoyingness in the annoying, and providing rudeness in return. These are not performances as much as they are full-on embraces: The Blunt Rudeness Trilogy is Emily Blunt taking the audience into her arms, and stroking its head, and whispering, “I know you hate how Anne Hathaway pronounces ‘Chanel.’ … and I know you think that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s tough-guy act is sort of Extra. … And I know you wish that Tom Cruise would understand that he honestly doesn’t have to prove anything, sex as a concept is very dated now. … I know. I’ll always know. And I’m here to help, by being rude to them, within the artificial moral constructs of cinema, like they deserve.”

And that’s where The Girl on the Train most fails Emily Blunt. It’s not that Emily Blunt is bad at playing a drunk. She’s actually pretty good at it — and she’s good overall, as far as it goes, in The Girl on the Train. It’s just that we don’t want Emily Blunt to play drunk. We don’t want her as the sloppy, slurring mess, making things worse. We want Emily Blunt to play the character who looks at her friend — the sloppy, slurring mess, making things worse — and snaps, “Get it together, Rachel.” Because that is what makes Emily Blunt’s rudeness so special. Her rudeness isn’t an expression of meanness. Rather, it’s an observation of basic inadequacy — and a desire for basic adequacy. It’s the wish and the hope that, with the right amount of tough love … everyone might eventually become their best self.

And now it’s only right that we return the favor. We need Emily Blunt to become her best self again. We need her to keep her beautiful, abysmal, wonderful, flawless, super-ill-advised American accent and never let it go. We need her to slow down the singing train, for the littlest while, before it gets out of hand. But mostly: It’s 2016. The world is terrible.

And we really just need some more movies where Emily Blunt is rude to it.