Gone Girl

(2014) ** 1/2 R
149 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: David Fincher. Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike.

/content/films/4729/1.jpgTone can be a delicate matter, and shaking it up can be a bold and admirable enterprise. But the curiouser and curiouser tone of the rabbit-hole mystery Gone Girl—David Fincher’s film of Gillian Flynn’s runaway bestseller—goes from intriguingly puzzling to downright alienating.

It’s all part of the intent of Fincher’s crazy black comedy of manners, scripted by Flynn herself and built around a twisty mystery: where has Nick Dunne’s wife gone, and is he responsible for her disappearance? The disruption to suburban normality in a once tony, now depressed Missouri community sets the stage for competing perspectives: that of Nick (a well-cast Ben Affleck), who insists upon his innocence even as he shows signs of misogyny and a violent temper, and of his wife Amy (cool blonde Rosamund Pike), whose diary—doled out in voice-over narration—seems to implicate her husband.

Peripheral characters add their own facets of interpretation of Nick and Amy’s marriage and Amy’s disappearance: the detectives investigating the case (the always terrific Kim Dickens and a wry Patrick Fugit), Amy’s parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes), Amy’s unhinged ex (Neil Patrick Harris), Nick’s twin sister Margo (a revelatory Carrie Coon), a high-powered defense attorney (Tyler Perry, spot-on), and rapacious TV journalists (Sela Ward and Missy Pyle, equally delicious).

No spoilers about where exactly the story takes viewers, but the twists lead into increasingly trashy territory inhabited by characters who become gender-politics cartoons: self-consciously scary archetypes of the stalking male and the hell-furious woman scorned. As with the once-upon-a-zeitgeist film Gone Girl most closely resembles (Fatal Attraction), the story’s potential heroes are awfully unpleasant, and when the plot spins off into the ridiculous, it becomes even more difficult to care about anyone.

The unfolding narrative has a certain “what next?” pull, and some satirical bite to compensate for a lack of depth. Like Fatal Attraction, Gone Girl is a marital house-of-horrors attraction hoping to leave married audiences wiping their sweaty brows or giggling with transgressive glee at the worst-case scenarios. In the film’s opening moments, Nick muses about “the primal questions of any marriage: what are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other?”, and Gone Girl does serve as a sort of allegorical autopsy of that fifty-percent of doomed marriages.

Flynn and Fincher also merrily skewer the three-ring media circus of media coverage (as in the Scott Peterson case): the press conference, the vigil, the confessional interview as stations of the it-bleeds-it-leads cross. Most intriguing is the sinking feeling on the part of the audience that whether Nick “did it” or not doesn’t much matter: he’s guilty of being a terrible husband in any case, just as it’s entirely possible that Amy is no saintly victim.

Once the chaotic adult-fairy-tale elements override Fincher’s otherwise meticulous style, one suspects this tawdry tale of marital fury signifies nothing more than a nihilistic view of heterosexual marriage. That’ll make it a perverse pleasure for some, and leave the rest feeling abused or at least dirty all over.

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