Gone Girl, the movie based on the 2012 bestseller, tells a story you think you know. Amy Elliott Dunne goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary, and her husband Nick doesn’t seem too upset about it. Maybe he’s exhausted. Killing your wife is strenuous work, right?
But Gone Girl is not that story. Even if you read the book, this film will surprise you. It’s dark and gutsy, both faithful to the novel and funny in unexpected ways.
By the time Amy goes missing, she and Nick have been having problems for years. They’ve lost their jobs, suffered family crises, and been forced to leave their home in New York for an unhappy compromise in Nick’s native Missouri. Their happily-ever-after has not really been happy at all. For Amy, this absence of happiness is a huge problem.
Amy disappears, Nick stumbles dutifully through the public dance of we-love-you-honey-please-come-home, and the evidence against him accumulates. Nick has a (very young) girlfriend. His credit-card debt is both astronomical and stupid. And according to Amy’s neighbor and “best friend,” Amy was pregnant.
Nick starts sleeping at his twin sister Margo’s house, dodging the detectives and the growing media scrum that follows them. By the time he realizes he needs the services of celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), it seems everyone in the world has already delivered a guilty verdict.
But we aren’t sure anymore, are we?
Director David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network) and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (who adapted her novel for the screen) make the most of a great cast. As Nick, Ben Affleck is a big dog in a house where everything is breakable: he literally can’t move without making a mess. Margo (Carrie Coon), loving and wary, is terrific as Nick’s emotional interpreter. Desi (Neil Patrick Harris) is the creepiest rich boy I’ve seen onscreen since Steff in Pretty In Pink; and Amy’s parents (David Clennon, Lisa Banes) are, in a word, perfect.
It’s a scene with her parents that first hints at what life with Amy is all about. At a launch party for the last novel in her parents’ series of children’s books (Amazing Amy), a resentful Amy tells Nick what it was like to grow up as the lesser twin to a fictional superkid:
When I played volleyball in high school, I quit after one year. Amazing Amy made varsity.
Amy hates Amazing Amy. She hates a lot of people: her neighbor, “useful idiot” Noelle, who considers Amy her best friend. Her parents – for using her life as literary fodder, being each other’s “soulmates,” and not managing what should have been her money. She hates her husband; she hates his girlfriend. Amy even hates a cultural composite, now famous to readers of Gone Girl: the Cool Girl.
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping. … Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
It has long been clear to me that this “Cool Girl,” who so fascinates and enrages Amy, is her husband’s twin. Margo is more than cool: she is Nick’s literal other half. Their bond is permanent, unbreakable, longer than their human lives — all of which Amy resents. For Margo, the feeling is mutual:
Whoever took her is bound to bring her back.
Margo has a point. As Amy, Rosamund Pike is a shimmering column of fury. She’s physical and calculating, with a voice that moves easily between a throaty whisper and a clipped suburban bark. The last time I paid to see a movie about a female sociopath (Basic Instinct), both the role and the actress were all over the place. Gone Girl’s Amy is the real deal: focused, relentless, and nowhere near as fragile as she looks.
I’m not a quitter, Nick.
The TV ads I saw for Gone Girl described it as a “date movie.” You might have to actually be married to know how funny that is. And how true.