Any film that covers the subject of rape/sexual abuse and its mental and emotional repercussions deserves to be applauded. It is a very difficult and sensitive subject that is also surprisingly complex when you see it from the victims' point of view.
'The Girl in the Book' is not the first film to explore the subject of rape/sexual abuse, and there are better overall examples when it comes to recent examples of films covering the subject it fares favourably. The last film seen by me exploring the same subject was 'Return to Sender' from two years ago, despite my admiration for Rosamund Pike (a good performance in a mediocre at best film) 'The Girl in the Book' is the much better film, being much better written, acted and easier to swallow on the most part. Again on the most part, 'The Girl in the Book' is a good film and a brave and well done exploration of a difficult subject that is harrowing and sensitive and not easy to talk about. It is also often misunderstood, with generalising, misconceptions and even with victim-blaming, which is good reason as to why it could be addressed more.
The first 10-15 minutes are on the erratically paced side and the two stories/time-line structure from the past with younger Alice and the present with older Alice is initially a little confusing and not as easy to follow as it could be. A longer length would definitely have helped, the film is too short which did make it occasionally jumpy and rushed.
If one feels the same and is considering switching it off, stick with it. The structure becomes clearer and while doing it in a nuanced way the film really comes to life. Sadly, 'The Girl in the Book' does fall apart in the final act, or the last half an hour, where it is too reliant on coincidences delivered in a very clunky fashion, things are wrapped up too tidily and conveniently and it just feels illogical and although intended to be inspiring the outcome felt forced and tacked on, hardly applying to a lot of victims and even when there are victims that do move on to some extent they never forget it.
On the other hand, 'The Girl in the Book' has a lot to recommend it. It is photographed with a lot of fluidity and atmosphere and the editing is always crisp and cohesive. The music, when used, never overbears the drama but is never too low key either. Marya Cohn makes a remarkably auspicious directorial debut, pacing enough of the story beautifully and being alert and accommodating to the actors, allowing them to bring believability and nuanced layers to otherwise fairly clichéd roles (particularly striking in this case is Alice, both older and younger).
'The Girl in the Book's' script is deft and can be surprisingly rich, clunking only in the final 30 minutes. Much of the story is clear, appropriately paced (though it is less than perfect in this regard) and dealing with its subject in a way that's harrowing, intelligent and poignant (there is little trivialising or sugar-coating here), making one really relate to Alice. A lot of the numerous twists are unexpected, logical and hit hard, if one feels uncomfortable watching that isn't a bad thing.
Every bit as impressive, in fact even more so, is the acting, with a particularly exceptional (haven't used that word often recently but in this case it is more than well deserved) performance from Emily VanCamp, bringing so many layers from guilt, shame and tormented pain but also determination and conscientiousness with defiant commitment and touching nuances to a character she makes complex and easy to relate to, yes even to people who have not been through rape/sexual abuse themselves. Ana Mulvoy-Ten portrays the younger Alice every bit as believably, going through a wide range of emotions hit perfectly.
Similarly, 'The Girl in the Book' boasts a (relatively) atypically chilling Michael Nykvist (best known to me as the male lead in the Swedish 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' trilogy) who does a fabulous job making his character as loathsome as can possibly be, his death from lung cancer earlier this year was and still is a very sad loss. David Call brings a sympathetic charm and makes the most of what is essentially a plot device character. Michael Cristofer plays a dismissive and cold father figure wonderfully, making one hate him just as much as Nykvist's Milan. Ali Ahn is fine too and one can easily identify with her having her heart in the right place and being the voice of reason.
Overall, doesn't completely engage at first and let down badly by the final act, but if stuck with it's very well done and absorbing. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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