This first review contains ZERO spoilers!!
Gone Girl reminds me of Spinal Tap's eleventh studio album, "Shark Sandwich".
Simply stated, Gone Girl should stay gone.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS MULTIPLE SPOILERS!!! THIS IS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!!
I am Jack's Wasted Life
Immediately as the credits rolled, after sitting silently for the full two and a half hours of Gone Girl (directed by David Fincher, written by Gillian Flynn), a middle aged woman sitting in the row behind me proclaimed, very loudly, her opinion of the film to her female companion, "That was the most morally reprehensible film I have ever seen!" she bellowed. I was able to decipher from the rest of the diatribe that followed, that she was deeply offended by what she perceived to be the film's misogyny. I understood her argument but I didn't think the film raised, or lowered as the case may be, itself to the standard of "most morally reprehensible film I have ever seen". Most artistically reprehensible film? Now that's a different story.
To be clear, I have not read the book Gone Girl. (As my friend Chaz J. Chazzington says, "Reading? What are you a nerd?" ) Nor have I read or heard any reviews or opinions of the film. I was a 'tabula rasa', as they say, in regards to Gone Girl when I went to see it. After watching it, I wish I could go back to that more pleasant time in my life when I had no knowledge of Gone Girl at all. That time, so peaceful and pleasant, seems very far away now, and the real tragedy is…I know I will never be able to return to it.
I am not sure where to begin in my critique of Gone Girl. The film fails in so many ways and on so many levels, that I'll be damned if I can just pick the one most glaring reason why it is no good. I guess I will do what the filmmakers did and just throw shit against a wall and let you, the reader, pick things out and try to make some semblance of order out of it.
I am Jack's Inflamed Sense of Rejection
First off, the film has no purpose. None. It might be trying to say something about modern tabloid culture, or suburban middle America, or marriage, or relationships, or exploitation, or appearances…maybe. But there is nothing, not a single thing, that is original, unique or interesting in the entire film. It says nothing, it does nothing, it means nothing. It just is. It doesn't even look great, which for a David Fincher film, is quite shocking. Some people might say, "well…it's a movie, it is just meant to entertain!" Ok, I can get on board with that..except…Gone Girl isn't even mildly entertaining. It is not something you are entertained by, it is something you endure. It is a muddling, befuddling, bewildering exercise in mindlessness. It exists only to support it's own existence.
I am Jack's Raging Bile Duct
Speaking of no purpose…who cast this film? This film boasts, in pivotal roles, not only Doogie Howser (Neil Patrick Harris) as an obsessive boyfriend who gets his throat cut, but also Medea (Tyler Perry) as a cut-throat New York city defense attorney. How is that a good idea? You couldn't find two better actors, actors with more heft, skill and edge to them than Doogie Howser and Medea? If this was an episode of Law and Order or CSI, then I'd say, good job, but this is a major studio motion picture with a budget north of $60 million dollars. You couldn't find ANYONE better than Doogie and Medea to fill those roles? If you don't take your own film seriously, why should I?
Ben Affleck plays the lead, Nick Dunne, and he is…fine. I like Ben Affleck, I don't think he is a particularly good actor, but I think he is a good director and frankly I root for him to do well for no other reason than he seems like a nice enough guy. (For instance it was nice to see Ben, an 'empty-headed actor' passionately stand up to Bill Maher and Sam Harris and all of their intellectual midgetry on Real Time with Bill Maher last week.) What Ben Affleck brings to a movie is minimal, and that is okay. Sometimes you don't need a leading man to bring much to a film (see early Tom Cruise as an example), you just need him to not take things away from a film (see more recent Tom Cruise as an example). Ben succeeds in 'not taking things away' from Gone Girl. That is not to say he is good…that is to say that he "is", and that is all he needs to be. He certainly lacks the range and expressiveness to convey the many twists and turns in the film, and a you could have cast someone better, but you also could have cast someone worse (again, see Tom Cruise as an example).
I am Jack's Broken Heart
The only true bright spots in terms of the acting are Carrie Coon as Margo Dunn, Nick's sister, and Kim Dickens as Detective Rhonda Boney. Both Coon and Dickens are really great actresses and it is frustrating that the film doesn't live up to the work they do in it. Coon is so good I kept wishing they had cast her in the lead role of Amy Dunne instead of Rosamund Pike. Pike may be a good actress, I don't know, I've not seen her work before, but she makes a classic error in her portrayal of the psychopath Amy. She gives away the game almost from the get-go. Amy is a psychopath and psychopaths are really great actors (don't ask me how I know that!!). You can't see the seams with a psychopath. If I were working with an actress cast in the part of Amy, I would tell her to play it straight, be genuine, don't play genuine. The script does all the work for you, it gives you obviously insane actions and makes you go to great lengths to maintain your control over the situation, so you do not need to play that she is a wild-eyed psychopath, we will see it in her actions, and when you are playing her as a genuine person, it makes her actions all the more creepy, and her all the more believable as the manipulative and vengeful woman she is. This is why I was hoping that Carrie Coon was playing Amy. She is pretty, yet approachable in that girl-next-door, not super model, not Rosamund Pike way. She seems like a real person, and that is what the role needs. I also saw that Reese Witherspoon was a producer on the film. I don't know if she had bought an option on the book or what, but I think she would have been fantastic as Amy, and the fact that she would have been playing with and against her good girl image would have made her performance all the more impactful.
I am Jack's Complete Lack of Surprise
Structurally, the film is really three films jammed together. The first film is, as Ben Affleck's Nick Dunne astutely observes while being interrogated, an episode of Law and Order. It is a good-enough episode, and a fairly captivating mystery. Then the film transitions to the Amy Dunne perspective in the second act. This is a much weaker portion. Once the shock of the reveal of Amy being alive wears off, you are asked to believe more and more preposterous things as a viewer while Nick and Amy play a cat and mouse game that has appeared out of nowhere. Act three begins when Amy Dunne publicly reappears covered in blood at the Dunne home in front of the media. This is the Evel Knievel of shark jumps. The last third of the film is nothing more than a farce. One absurdity and illogical choice after another. The choices that people have to make in order for the story to keep going forward, are so illogical and asinine that they make it seem like it is all happening in another universe where the laws of human behavior are so opposite our own as to be incomprehensible.
I am Jack's Medulla Oblongata
Here are just a few things that stand out in the Gone Girl universe that make me think that the laws of human behavior, not to mention the laws of physics and biology, do not apply...
1. When we learn that Amy is alive and is on the run and hiding out, she decides to befriend someone. Well, you may think that friendship is a normal human need and want. You would be wrong because we learn earlier that Amy has no friends, and the only friend she has in their neighborhood, the moronic Noelle Hawthorne, is, according to Amy, nothing more than a prop for the purpose of her fake murder scheme. In other words she is totally, 100% committed to her scheme, yet she quickly ditches it in order to have companionship with the trailer trash girl living next door. It makes no sense.
2. When it is revealed that Amy is still alive, she is driving down a highway and defiantly eating a fast food burger. Good for her. She won't be worried about her body or what society has to say about it any more. Eat, eat, eat, lots of junk. It's all we see her doing as she hides out. And she gets fat. Her face gets fat, she gets a gut. I was thinking that she must have been hiding for like six months. No…it was day four of her being on the run. She was able to gain roughly twenty five pounds in 96 hours. How biologically odd. And thankfully for her, she is able to lose that weight just as quickly when she has to appear in sexy lingerie and have sex with Doogie Howser.
3. When Amy inexplicably keeps all her money with her when she inexplicably goes miniature golfing with her inexplicable new redneck friends, and then they inexplicably see her money and not so inexplicably steal it from her, she is left with no one to call except her ex-flame Doogie Howser. She and Doogie decide to meet at a riverboat casino on the Mississippi. There may be no more photographed place on earth than a casino. Why not meet at a McDonalds parking lot, that way you can eat all the fast food burgers you want and magically gain weight and then magically lose it, remain hidden and get some product placement money as well.
4. When Amy goes to live with Doogie in his hidden cabin, she learns once inside that the outside of the place is under constant surveillance. Once she decides to double cross Doogie she stages herself crying and in anguish in front of one of the windows so the cameras pick her up in a state of despair. And then once she kills Doogie and comes forward she tells police to look at the surveillance footage to prove she was a prisoner. But what about the footage prior to her double crossing Doogie? What about the footage of her strolling in to the cabin arm in arm with Doogie without a care in the world. Wouldn't they see that footage too?
5. When Amy tells Nick she is pregnant, it is the final nail in his coffin. He can't leave her now. She is too crazy to be left alone with a kid and too manipulative to go to the authorities. She has won. Except, Nick has an ally, not only in his powerful NY attorney but also in Detective Boney on the local police force. He has people in power who know who Amy really is. He couldn't come forward in the interview with the tabloid woman Ellen Abbott and tell his entire side? Hell…wouldn't Sela Ward's TV host have great interest in that story? How is it that he feels so powerless?
I am Jack's Cold Sweat
After seeing Gone Girl, I was having a conversation with a famous director friend of mine. In order to protect his identity, and spare his career, I will call him Mr. X. Mr. X disliked Gone Girl as much as I did, but he thought it would get a Best Picture nomination. I was shocked, how could something so awful get a nomination? He said..."remember Avatar?" Sadly…I do remember Avatar. Avatar is a really atrocious film. The acting is beyond words it is so horrific. The story is obscenely incoherent. But like Avatar, Gone Girl has struck a chord with the public. People saw it in droves, and Avatar, in all it's awfulness, managed to get nominated. I am fearful that Gone Girl will as well. My one and only hope is that Avatar was a sci-fi movie with lots of bells and whistles and shiny things for the masses to gawk at, which is maybe why they flocked to it. The only bell or whistle or shiny thing for the masses to gawk at in Gone Girl is Ben Affleck's penis, which hopefully doesn't have the same eye candy appeal to Oscar voters as Avatar did.
I am Jack's Smirking Revenge
There is a scene in Gone Girl where the beautiful Rosamund Pike, as Amy Dunne, takes a hammer to her face and smashes herself with it. I think this is the only scene in the entire film with which I connected. Amy smashing her face with a hammer was the perfect visual representation of how I felt for two and a half hours watching Gone Girl. I think they should do a promotion where they hand out hammers to people as they enter the theater and wait and see how long they make it without smashing their own face in in order to escape the inanity playing out before them onscreen.
I am Jack's Colon
You may think after having panned Gone Girl, that I am not a fan of it's director, David Fincher. You couldn't be more wrong. I really like most of Fincher's films. His less popular films, Zodiac and The Game, are among some of my all-time favorites, as are his more well known films Fight Club, Seven and The Social Network. Fincher is a brilliant and stylistically original artist. I just think that his style has failed with Gone Girl, not that he is a failure.
So what style would have made Gone Girl better? It is interesting, but as I watched the final third of Gone Girl, the director I kept thinking of was David Lynch. Two of Lynch's films in particular, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. Both of those films touched upon certain similar themes as Gone Girl attempted to touch upon, namely, the ugliness just beneath the surface of the American heartland's veneer (Blue Velvet), and the moral and ethical cancer at the heart of America's fame driven culture (Mulholland Drive). The main thing that Gone Girl becomes in it's third act is realist absurdism. No one does absurdism wrapped in a blanket of stylized realism better than David Lynch. Lynch's Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive are both dramas, comedies, tragedies, social commentaries and horror films all rolled up into one, which is exactly what Gone Girl unsuccessfully tried to do.
So, here is my pitch on "How to make Gone Girl a good film": Start off by not having Gillian Flynn, who authored the book, write the screenplay. Have David Lynch, who should replace Fincher as director, write the screenplay, or better yet, have Charlie Kaufman write the screenplay, that would really turn the story on it's head. You can keep Ben Affleck in the lead if you like, and Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens in their roles as well. We replace Rosamund Pike with Reese Witherspoon in the lead role of Amy. Finally, we replace Neil Patrick Harris with the incisive and edgy talent of Alan Cumming and we jettison Tyler Perry for Samuel L. Jackson, who would bring a great deal of life, energy and power to the role of the lawyer. There you have it, I saved Gone Girl….you're welcome. If only some studio would wise up and put me in charge, then I could save all of Hollywood, and by extension…your soul…and the world.
FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING , WHIPLASH , BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) , FOXCATCHER , WILD , AMERICAN SNIPER , A MOST VIOLENT YEAR , THE IMITATION GAME , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , INHERENT VICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .