Movie Review: Gone Girl (2014)
Sadly, I figured out the plot twist before I even saw it. The week it premiered, I came across a headline, “Is ‘Gone Girl’ Misogynistic?” and that’s pretty much all it took. I knew the movie was about a pretty blonde, Amy (Rosamund Pike), whose husband, Nick (Ben Affleck), becomes the chief suspect, and a cable news cad, after her disappearance. So our big question going in is: Does he or doesn’t he? But if the movie can be accused of misogyny, not only does it clear Nick but it implicates Amy. Maybe she just leaves? Maybe she manufactures the whole thing to get attention—or to turn the world against her husband? Which, yes, turns out to be the case.
So be more careful with your headlines, everybody.
I don’t even agree with the implication in the headline. At some point the one doesn’t represent the whole. Amy isn’t all women any more than Norman Bates is all men. Nor Nick, for that matter. Nick is lazy, adulterous, dull, cowardly. Most of the men in this movie are playthings for the women. That moment when Amy and Det. Rhonda Boney (an excellent Kim Dickens) get into a subtle staredown after Amy’s reappearance, with a scrum of concerned FBI agents between them, I flashed on Margaret Atwood’s novel “Cat’s Eye,” and thought things were about to get good. But that was it. They had Det. Boney peel off from the story. Too bad. It was a nice scene anyway. With the dopey FBI men acting solicitous toward Amy (who was a murderer), and stern toward Det. Boney (who was simply doing her job), I began to laugh out loud.
That’s something I didn’t see coming. “Gone Girl,” based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, is a David Fincher crime story so in the tradition of gritty, gruesome stuff like “Se7en” and “Zodiac” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” The last thing you expect are laughs. Yet they keep coming. The movie is an absurdist take on marriage and privilege and fame and infamy. It’s high camp. It’s the funniest movie David Fincher has made.
When did I begin laughing? I think when the parents arrived in Missouri.
Amy goes missing on the afternoon of her fifth wedding anniversary. Nick comes home, she’s not there, the glass coffee table is upended and broken. So he calls the cops. He’s kind of dazed. Wooden. We find out later he’s been schtupping a writing student with the All-American name Andie Hardy (model Emily Ratajkowski, the “Blurred Lines” girl), and that morning he was ready to ask his wife for a divorce. So part of him is relieved by her disappearance. But he can’t show that. The casting of Ben Affleck—long accused of wooden acting—is itself a kind of joke. Later in the movie, for example, Nick is prepped by his top-flight attorney, Tanner Bolt (a surprisingly smooth Tyler Perry), before he goes on one of those awful Barbara Walters-like shows to confess his infidelity, and every time Nick acts wooden Bolt pelts him with a gummy bear. Directors from Michael Bay to Kevin Smith are probably going, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”
So on that first day, her parents, rich, privileged New Yorkers, Rand and Marybeth Elliott (a perfectly cast David Clennon and Lisa Banes), arrive in Missouri; and in the press conference in which Nick does everything wrong—acts wooden, mumbles a few words, smiles awkwardly next to his wife’s missing photo—they do everything right. They look grim and determined. They give out the 1-888 number they’ve already set up and the URL to the website they’ve already set up. They’re whirlwinds. It shouldn’t be funny—a woman is missing, after all—but it is. And it gets funnier as Nick drives around town and sees billboards displaying his missing wife’s face. How quickly his story becomes their story becomes everybody’s story. How quickly he becomes inconsequential.
Would it be less funny if we actually liked Nick and Amy? We get flashbacks to when they first meet, trading bon mots at a New York cocktail party, and it feels less “meet cute” than “meet awful.” They’re vaguely intellectual, fairly privileged, mostly shallow. He writes for a men’s health magazine, she writes ... where again? I forget. She’s more famous for being the inspiration for a series of children’s books, “Amazing Amy,” that her mother wrote. Plus she’s played by Rosamund Pike, who often projects a decided chill onto the screen.
“The hallmark of a sociopath is a lack of empathy,” says cable-news harpy Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle), implicating Nick in the disappearance of his wife, even if, ultimately, the description fits Amy more than Nick. And Ellen Abbott as much as Amy? She makes her living, and a good one, ruining lives with innuendo. Amy just accuses men of rape. Or “disappears” to get back at her dull husband and his infidelities. Or accuses them of rape, then murders them. That’s what she does with her longtime unrequited lover Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris), who protects her after her escape plans go awry. But he’s got the lack-of-empathy gene, too, doesn’t he? He loves her, he says, but when she comes to him in need, still in her dowdy, thickening camouflage, he immediately wants to turn her back into the golden girl she once was. It’s funny stuff. She’s still talking about Nick, whom she watches heartfeltly professing his (fake) love for her on national TV, while Desi, also professing his (real?) love, keeps implying she needs to work out more, eat less, dye her hair back to blonde. So many cross-currents of shallow agendas on display here. So little empathy behind so many professions of love.
Who does have empathy in this movie? How wide a brush should we use? And even when characters seem to have empathy—Amy’s parents, the dingbat neighbor Noelle (SNL alum Casey Wilson)—aren’t they just looking out for themselves? Or is this simply our ungenerous view of them? Or is the film being ungenerous?
The key line of the movie is the sociopath line above, the lack-of-empathy-gene, but it leads to this question: How do you lose empathy? Well, it helps if you demonize or reduce others, and the cable-news industry, in the movie and in real life, certainly does that. It demonizes Nick (into a callow murderer) even as it reduces Amy (into a pretty victim). But doesn’t the movie do the same thing? It gives us reductive characters like the dingbat neighbor and the shallow unrequited lover. I suppose that’s why it’s campy. That’s why it’s funny. It brings us laughs at the expense of lessons. But it also answers our question about how wide the sociopathic brush is. It’s so wide, “Gone Girl” paints itself with it. Giggling.
It’s also why I got bored. I lacked empathy for these reductive characters. I cared a bit about Nick, particularly when he was getting railroaded, and a little about his sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), who seemed like a real person. I liked Tanner Bolt and Det. Boney, both of whom seemed smart. But anyone else?
The ending is particularly disappointing and unbelievable. The more interesting characters go away—Bolt, Boney—while Nick winds up back in his marriage, trapped there by public opinion, but now with a woman he knows is capable of murder. The outward projection is of love and perfection, the inner version is hell. It should be chilling but it’s too silly for that. What’s missing is anything human-sized.