“Gone Girl” opens with a closeup of the top of a blond woman’s head being caressed by a man’s hand. He often thinks, he says, about cracking her head open to find out, “What are you thinking?” Then he adds, “What have we done to each other?”
“Gone Girl” the novel is a cleverly structured whodunit that keeps us speculating about who in this married couple is guilty of what. Both protagonists present conflicting points-of-view and unreliable narration as we follow what happens to Nick, unhappily back home in North Carthage, Missouri, when his miserable Manhattan transplant wife Amy goes missing. With money from her doting parents’ trust fund she’s paying for a handsome house and The Bar, which he runs with his twin sister Margot. After he files a missing persons report, he is scrutinized, first by cops, locals and press, and then national tabloid trash mongers, as accusations fly that he killed his wife. “Where is Amy?” placards inevitably emerge.
Nick, a tad too good-looking and accustomed to charming and lying his way out of any situation, is caught in a nightmare. As we learn from Amy’s diary entries how the attractive Manhattan duo met and wooed, how the economy and disappointment turned their marriage sour, and how equally angry they’ve become, we wonder what each one is capable of, and see many unsettling things on the way to finding out.
Fincher’s movie does have something on its mind. Both the book and film dive into uncomfortable truths about the way real men and women behave with each other: pretending, acting, putting forth their best selves during a courtship that can rarely be sustained. Nick brushes falling bakery sugar off Amy’s lips before kissing her, and covers his cleft chin with two fingers to show that he’s telling “100% truth”–even when he isn’t. And Amy knows how to put on multiple roles such as “cool girl.” What goes on behind the perfect facades of countless picture-book marriages? What forces–financial, social, presentational–keep fellow narcissists together over time?
Author Gillian Flynn has brilliantly streamlined and punched up the storyline. It works–even at two and a half hours. At the press conference she admitted that when she knew that the movie had sold to New Regency/Fox, she didn’t want anyone else to adapt it and fought for the gig. When she landed it, she was both thrilled and terrified. When Fincher came on board, he worked to keep “the weird nuances intact.” Fincher was being typically controlling during the press conference, exhorting the press to hide “Gone Girl” plot spoilers– while the bestseller is still flying off bookshelves– and refusing to allow anyone to record the NYFF press conference.
At Tavern on the Green, Affleck admitted that yes, that’s his real naked body in the shower scene, bulked up to play Batman. He enjoyed ribbing Fincher at the press conference, he admitted–he found out during the shoot that you could give him shit, he said–as long as it was about the work, reminded Pike. (I snapped that photo above.) Affleck was trying to read the NYFF audience vs. real folks in theaters. After he wraps playing Batman in November, said producer Jennifer Todd, he’ll prep for an east coast summer start on his next Dennis Lehane adaptation “Live By Night,” in which he’s set to star with Elle Fanning, Zoe Saldana and Sienna Miller.
I mingled with the likes of Darren Aronofsky (sans scarf, heading to Mill Valley to hawk the VFX pleasures of “Noah”), Edward Norton (who said he never had more fun than on the set of “Birdman”), the director of the festival’s secret screening, “While We’re Young,” Noah Baumbach, with Greta Gerwig, Twentieth Century Fox execs Jim Gianopulos and Emma Watts, critics Lisa Schwarzbaum and Manohla Dargis (who did not rave about the film) and “Foxcatcher” director Bennett Miller and producer Jon Kilik.
At the party many people debated the movie’s Oscar chances. At this stage, anyone who knows that answer is premature (one New York online columnist glibly dismissed it as “too genre”). That’s exactly the poison meme that rival Oscar hopefuls want to spread. (Another one making the rounds: Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” is “too violent.”) That’s why I wait to see films before making judgments.
As I waited with one Fox marketing executive at Tavern on the Green for the Alice Tully Hall crowd to arrive– Fincher, Affleck, Pike, Flynn et al. wanted to sit through the 9 pm screening–we agreed that managing Oscar expectations would be tricky. First it has to be a hit: always a wise strategy. The movie opens wide October 3.
Here’s what Fox has to worry about going forward:
1. Is the movie mainstream enough to be a hit?
The film generated some laughter from the press as well as the highbrow opening night crowd at Lincoln Center. There’s a complex set of shifting tones. Fincher is making fun of our need for romance as well as those idiots in flyover land who swear by tabloid trash channels like TMZ, such as Amy’s neighbor friend, the mother of triplets. Is the movie too cold and sophisticated? Both “A Social Network” and “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” were a tad too smart for the room; “The Social Network” lost Best Picture to “The King’s Speech.” (This year brings two heartwarming man-with-affliction period biopics, “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything.”)
On the other hand, the man I was sitting next to at the screening was clearly identifying with Nick, and I’d argue that we will all recognize aspects of ourselves in Nick and Amy, even if most of us would never act out quite the way they did. “Gone Girl” was originally three hours long, and cutting it down was a struggle. But finally Fox was willing to let it be two and half hours. There was plenty of story to tell.
This movie will certainly be a hit with smart audiences, I have no doubt. It’s hugely entertaining, ably carried by Affleck and Pike, and will certainly play well enough to be perceived as a success. And it is already generating debate (see below).
2. Is the film too genre for the Academy?
Plenty of films have risen above their genre origins to score with the Academy, if not with a Best Picture win like “Silence of the Lambs,” than plenty of nominations and other Oscars, from “Gravity” to “Avatar.” Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” wound up winning one Oscar for Best Editing out of five nominations, including cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and actress Rooney Mara.
Will “Gone Girl” follow the same path? The film is Hitchcockian, as we get caught up in flawed characters doing dastardly things. (There’s even a section where Amy gets a “Vertigo” makeover.) Fincher’s usual suspects Cronenweth, composers Atticus Ross & Trent Reznor and editor Kirk Baxter will be back in line for technical nominations, for sure; the movie is superbly wrought. Along with critics (so far Rotten Tomatoes is at 86%) the Golden Globes and guilds should support it.
And Fincher is in the running, too. Affleck says he’s both a tech savvy and actors’ director. “You probably have pre and post Fincher in your work,” said Pike. The cast has “to work as a ballet company, everybody has to make it sing,” said Fincher. “Then you can [get a lot] across to an audience.”
And the actors will go for smart Brit Pike for Best Actress. It’s a great, juicy role involving multiple personas and moods and colors. She’s comedic, she’s anxiety-provoking, she’s tragic and mysterious and beautiful. It’s the best angry woman role since Nicole Kidman in “To Die For” or Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.”
Also top-notch in support are Tyler Perry, who manages to make the cliched high-powered divorce attorney surprising to watch–he was cast, said Fincher, because of his extreme calm; “it’s all about ease,” said Perry–and Neil Patrick Harris, who plays an erudite rich fop obsessed with Amy.
3. Uh-oh. Will the misogyny debate prove good or bad?
There’s no such thing as too much publicity. “What will progressive women think of this movie?” Jeff Wells asked me the second it was over. “They will compare it to ‘Fatal Attraction,'” I replied.
As Pike said at the press conference, she had a blast digging into the character of Amazing Amy, even if the movie doesn’t take as much time to explain her as the book does. Amy likes to adopt different guises, and Pike goes all the way with that. She complimented Fincher on his precise tugging and pulling for more. But Fincher and his cast tip the balance toward Nick and against Amy. We do find ourselves taking sides. Fincher says Affleck was perfect casting, as long as he could keep him away from shooting Batman. Affleck, who endured his own media circus with JLo and “Gigli,” makes Nick weak but believable and sympathetic. That’s harder to do with Amy.
Fincher didn’t quite know how to read the Brit Pike through her range of films (“An Education,” “Price & Prejudice,” “The World’s End”). It was not being able to pin her down and then discovering she was an only child that cinched the deal. “Weird kid,” laughed Pike, and Fincher replied, “No, just off.”
Yes, Flynn put in a cat to make Nick more likable. The movie favors him more than the book, as we laugh along with his sister Margo’s reaction to Nick calling Amy “complicated”: “Everyone knows that ‘complicated’ is a code word for bitch…Even if I didn’t like being around her, that didn’t mean I didn’t like her.” It’s too easy to dislike the uppity, snobbish, perfectionist, anally retentive female who organizes drawers, plans intricate treasure hunts, and scrubs the house clean. Luckily, Amy is far more interesting than that. As are Nick’s sister Margo (Carrie Coon) and North Carthage cop Boney (Kim Dickens).
“The book asked hard questions about what we want from relationships,” says Affleck. “So we sometimes find out ugly things. Roz had the courage to go towards that. And add to that David’s subversive take on that dark look at marriage.” While Affleck says his job was to empathize with Nick, how you see him may depend on your sex–so far Affleck sees women finding Nick a dick and most men going, “yeah.”
“We put marriage under a microscope,” says Pike, who had to orchestrate various weight fluctuations during the shoot–as Affleck was bulking up to be Batman. “You know someone so well that you can screw every single nut.”
But she’s also, finally, movie real. Even as written in the book, she is taken to a far extreme from anyone we would really know. Which is likely comforting. She’s admirable and smart and clever, too, in her way. Which is why she is complicated: “Basically she’s having it all, she’s a modern woman, lean in!” says Flynn.