- Ben Affleck is amazingly good. His disingenuous flash of a smile at the press conference totally nails the character and makes all of the pathetic interior life of the character leap from the page to the screen. He’s brave enough to be unlikable and also has enough complex emotion behind his eyes to earn our pained empathy throughout, but just barely, which is how it should be.
- I originally thought Affleck and Neil Patrick Harris should have switched roles, because Desi on the page was a hunkier, more intimidating guy than Nick. My big fear was that Fincher, in his rush to demonize Amy, would use NPH to make Desi into more of a sad sack victim. But no, I was happy to see that NPH was allowed to be totally creepy and become genuinely threatening. You do fear for Amy when he’s around.
- Likewise Tyler Perry is a revelation: Funny, clever, and charming. Give that guy a spinoff.
- A lot of other actors who I thought of as merely okay really stepped up to the plate with smart, funny big-screen-worthy performances, especially Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, and Carrie Coon.
As I mentioned before in the comments, Reese Witherspoon optioned this book when the galley first came out, intending to play Amy herself. I knew this when I read it, and it worked perfectly: After all, she excels at playing both “America’s Sweetheart” and disturbed sociopathic characters, which is exactly the duality this part required. But after Witherspoon hired Fincher, he turned right around and fired her, because he didn’t fit her conception for of the part.
So instead he cast an honest-to-God Bond villain. Now I loved Pike’s pulpy performance as “Miranda Frost” in Die Another Day, and I thought she was even better in An Education as a dim-but-wise moll. She’s a great character actress. But both roles capitalized on her inherently frosty and opaque charm. She’s not even remotely “America’s Sweetheart,” as the Amy of the diary has to be.
Allow me to tell a story I probably shouldn’t: An acquaintance of mine wrote a screenplay that became a hot Hollywood commodity, attracting several stars and big directors before it finally got made (you’ll probably guess who I’m talking about, but please don’t say so in the comments). He was telling me about how he managed to stay on as sole writer over the course of that long process, and said it involved doing a lot of unpleasant things.
Specifically, he talked about the period when David Fincher was attached to direct, and demanded of the writer that he rewrite it as a “domestic abuse comedy”, in which the couple try to kill each other and then go to the hospital and force each other to tell the doctors that they just ran into doorknobs. The writer said that it disgusted him to write those scenes, but he felt like he had to because he didn’t want to be replaced on his own script. Besides, by that point he had already seen so many directors come and go that he felt he could make these changes and just hope that the script would revert after Fincher moved on, which was precisely what happened.
I kept thinking about this story as I watched Gone Girl. Finally, I got to the point in the movie where the doctor asks Pike if she feels safe going home with her husband, and we cut to Affleck giving a little “fuck you” wave to her, which got a laugh from everyone in the room, including me. That was when I said to myself “Jesus, Fincher finally got the domestic abuse comedy he always wanted!”
One thing that was so clever about the book was that Amy’s “phony” diary, despite her attempts to twist the narrative to her own advantage, actually gives us a compelling portrait of a woman scorned who snaps, revealing more about her true self than she ever intended.
This worked so well that I was really disappointed (as well as disgusted) when Flynn revealed Amy’s history of false rape claims. Not only does this plot twist reflect a totally unrealistic (but all-too-common) misogynistic misperception of reality, it also undoes the subtle cleverness of the first half in favor of a straight-up villainous narrative. Instead of a somewhat shallow girl who becomes desperately deranged, she’s just, in her own words, “a cunt.” (By the way folks, real life women don’t serially fake rape or call themselves cunts. That’s not the way the world works.)
When I heard they were turning it into a movie, I thought, “Great, just take that totally-extraneous part out and it would be a pretty good movie!” But of course Fincher kept it in, and twisted the rest of the story to fit that narrative, which makes Amy consistently repellent in every frame of the movie, which leaves us with weasely Nick as sole protagonist, which doesn’t work. So the movie fails. It’s a shame because Fincher nails every scene that Amy isn’t in, and even a few Amy scenes (like the robbery, and the early NPH scenes). If only Fincher hadn’t fired his boss, it all could have worked!