It ^^^ really did.
Casting a larger lead character thin for the big screen adaption altered how I saw The Girl On The Train… and ultimately squashed the story’s underlying themes of self acceptance, appearances, discrimination and bias.
In the best-selling novel, “The Girl” on the train is Rachel Watson. She is the lead character and has clearly been written by the author as overweight. With descriptors such as “heavyset’, ‘fat’ and ‘fat arsed’ (among others), Rachel is without a doubt a plus-size woman who also happens to be ‘average looking’.
With no other notable or distinctive feature used to describe Rachel throughout the book, wouldn’t one think this was a PERFECT opportunity to cast a larger actress in this role?
***Caveat: This is in no way slamming or judging the brilliant & talented Emily Blunt who happens to be one of my most favorite actresses on the planet and undoubtedly carries out the acting side of this role to perfection. Her performance in the film isn’t the point here; it’s the issue that a 115 pound actress was cast in a role that was specifically meant for an actress of a more sizable stature. No, this is a ‘Hollywood discriminates against fat people over and over again and it needs to change’ issue.
Unfortunately, this opportunity was missed and was instead swept under the industry carpet (joining the thousands of other missed opportunities to cast actors of different body types in movies, that we see we see happening over and over again). This was a chance to show acceptance of the idea that women of all looks and sizes can portray many characters, experience many things and perhaps even– gasp!– be THE LEAD. I’ve always understood the United Kingdom to be brutal about one’s extra pounds; even just 10-15 extra pounds can earn you a good ribbing, etc. So when I started reading the descriptions in the novel I initially gave Hollywood casting a pass since the story is set in England.
Still, Rachel is noticeably overweight in the book.
And when Hollywood decided to set The Girl On The Train not in England, but in New York, (i.e. AMERICA), this changed the calculus for me. Casting a very thin actress as Rachel and then putting her in some very baggy clothes simply could not convince me that this was the same character who endured body shaming in the book version. But had a noticeably overweight actress been cast? Now that WOULD actually justify the self-reflection and judgmental opinions that were thought and said by the other characters in the story.
In roughly the first 100 pages, one will easily find at least ten references to not only the appearance of Rachel, but how she sees the other women she observes and comes in contact with. And this is exactly why it is integral for the role of Rachel in the film to be played by a heavier actress. Because the character is all around heavy. Not just in physical appearance, but also in regards to where she is at in her life. She is anchored down by her past issues and anytime the reader is in Rachel’s world, it can leave one feeling thick and murky all over, too.
Like everyone else, I enjoyed the book for the thrills, the mystery and the constant leaving you guessing who the culprit was all the way to the end. But I was especially invested in The Girl On The Train because the story was being navigated by a larger female who was going through a tremendous amount of pain– and I could actually relate to it:
The low body image commentary, the feelings of one’s self-worth when you are going through a sad phase in your life, the discrimination of not wanting to be lumped in with someone who is overweight, the sense of entitlement that comes with what it’s like to be the object of desire when you look like the ‘perfect’ woman (note: Hollywood perfectly cast the two females who were regarded as ‘perfect and desirable’ in the book version.)…
But the film version did not go all in. And in this halving-process, they neutered/(destroyed?) many of the story’s primary themes; ideas that would have added incredible nuance to this story– had they cast a larger actress.
If you don’t know this by now, Hollywood doesn’t take kindly to fat people. If you are a size 6 (yes a size 6!), you will just barely get by as ‘industry acceptable’; but if you are over a size 12, you will undeniably be cast as the the sidekick, the frumpy best friend, the joke, the loser, the next door neighbor, the lonely one, the miserable one, the one who wants to lose weight, the extra with ‘extra’. You will NOT be cast as the boss, the president, the cool kid, the athlete, the one who has all the adventures, or the superhero… You will not be cast as “The Girl” on the train.
As far as Hollywood is concerned, if you are fat you don’t deserve to have a story that is multi-layered or thought-provoking. You don’t even deserve to exist in a story that was originally written FOR your body type.
In the words of British slang, ‘That’s a load of old bollocks’!!
If you’ve been following my ongoing body activism advocacy you know what I’m doing to make sure the Hollywood body image narrative changes drastically (SHAMELESS PLUG FOR MY PRODUCTION COMPANY– WEBSITE DROPPING SOON!!). If you’re as as fed up as I am with the blatant discrimination against body diversity, hear me out:
Wanna see body diversity in all roles in film/tv? It starts with YOU. It’s up to US to teach the industry how we really want to see ourselves represented. Our power is in our wallets. Support larger artists– actors, actresses, singers, musicians, authors, painters, dancers (the list goes on!)… Talent knows no size limit.
In the beginning of the book, when Rachel is on the train, she sees a concrete building. On its side someone has painted: LIFE IS NOT A PARAGRAPH. That’s exactly how I feel about the depiction of diversely shaped people in film and tv. We are not a paragraph. We are an entire book and we deserve to have our stories told.