Gone Girl somehow meets, defies, and exceeds expectations as modern literature’s most dysfunctional marriage finally makes its screen debut.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: boy meets girl; a great love story begins; the couple marry; the honeymoon inevitably ends; girl goes missing; boy becomes the ultimate suspect. But that’s only the shallowest summary of Gone Girl; what actually unfolds is twisty thriller with an ending that – unless you read it in the novel – you’re lying if you tell your friends you saw coming. A treatise on the media circus and blood-sucking interest that such stories create, Gone Girl is a perfect fit for the age of TMZ and Us Weekly. My anticipation for this film was so great and my expectations exceeded capacity, but my high standards were matched by director David Fincher, surpassed by the superb cast, and defied by writer Gillian Flynn, whose script teased perfection.
Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) has a problem: on his fifth anniversary, his marriage is nothing but a shell of its original potential. Recently moving back to Missouri with his New York wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) – both being laid off from their writing jobs in the midst of the recession – to care for his ailing mother and open a bar with his twin sister, Nick is just another unhappy husband. Totally ordinary, that is, until his completely extraordinary wife comes up missing. Not wanting to panic, Nick brings in the cops, and the ensuing mystery only grows more confounding as secrets the married couple kept from each other slowly come to light and threaten to pull Nick apart. That’s really all I can tell you without incurring the wrath of anyone who has not seen the film or those who wish for you to see the movie blind – Spoiler Nazis, as I lovingly refer to them.
A self-described David Fincher groupie, I’ve always admired how the director can take a character – in this case characters – so unlikable and make them as relatable as your best friend. As the mystery unfolds, Nick Dunne does everything to come across as unlikeable; even his smug attempts to be “the homecoming king,” admired by everyone, produce bile in the mouth of any typical viewer. But – as hard as it is to believe – you begin to empathize with the man of many secrets, even though the Club of Men with Missing Wives is probably quite exclusive.
Fincher (along with Casting Director Laray Mayfield) has assembled a dynamite cast. Affleck and Rosamund Pike perfectly portray the film’s fairytale couple – I say “fairytale” because the dreamlike and gothic quality to their romance begs for such a description. Upon meeting, the duo’s witty dialogue is like a Broadway revival of Prelude to a Kiss: equal parts annoying and adorable. Much has been made of Affleck’s unique qualifications to portray Nick – at times charming, others smarmy. Pike is a vision of the perfect woman, and we, too, become entranced by the legend of Amazing Amy. Tyler Perry is at the top of his game as glib lawyer Tanner Bolt, as is Missi Pyle as a Nancy Grace clone. Character actress Kim Dickens gifts audiences with the best performance of her career as Detective Rhonda Boney, perfectly capturing the brilliant foil’s complicated relationship with Affleck’s Nick. But the real shining light is Carrie Coon — Nick’s twin sister Margo, a straight-talking, tough-as-nails Missourian whose whole world is shattered by Amy’s disappearance and her guilt at her wavering loyalty for her brother. It’s one of those performances that is so quietly effective, it will probably go unnoticed in awards season.
The only mildly irritating presentation comes (surprisingly) from Neil Patrick Harris, who plays Amy’s former paramour Desi Collings. I’m sure some views will find his choices as a creepy devotee of Amy effectively chilling, but I was mostly put off by his over-reaching. In a film so raw and understated, with so much truth, Harris’s enormous presence sticks out – that is, until his final scenes, which play out perfectly. I am fine being in the minority on this one; Harris just didn’t seem to be starring in the same movie as everyone else.
Everyone has an agenda; in fact, save Margo, every character in Gone Girl is a liar, hiding a secret, willing to go to great extremes to reach their goals. It’s a very raw character study about desperation, making the heightened emotions appear utterly ordinary in the best way. Gillian Flynn adapts the script seamlessly from her best-selling novel, structuring the story just right: neutralizing the less cinematic elements and enhancing the more dramatic moments. I remember being frightened by the words on the page, biting my nails as I feverishly made it through the book, but I was downright terrified by the end of the film. This is a “take-it-with-you” kind of movie, and your mind will linger on its dark revelations long after you leave the theater.
The chillingly complicated story is made all the more effective by Fincher’s trademark sinister visuals. The grey tones and muted production design create a grotesque atmosphere of a dreary town in the midst of scandal and the woeful tale of its star couple. Frequent collaborator Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography is a triumph; each scene married to the next with wistful movement and inspired shot design. At this point, is it possible to expect anything less with Fincher?
Other than Harris’s performance, my only further (minor) criticisms of the film are the lack of character development of Amy’s parents and the exclusion of Hilary Hand. In the book, Rand and Maybeth Elliot are three-dimensional, flawed and frightened parents whose frantic decisions propel our own confusion in the wake of Amy’s disappearance. Her true opinion of the duo is another clue to the enigma that is Amy Elliot Dunne, and sorely missing from the caricature of Sad Daddy and Tiger Mommy from the film. Amy’s relationship with Hilary Hand not only fills in some much-needed gaps but also offers another false lead that keeps you guessing. I understand the run time of 149 minutes could not accommodate all of the twists and turns, but as a devoted reader I still missed these small omissions.
Suggestion: See it on a date. Get drinks afterward for a lively discussion of bitter marriages, sociopaths, and the importance of a high thread count.