The “Cool Girl” Speech May Be a Meme, But It’s Not the Point of ‘Gone Girl’

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If you haven’t read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or seen the David Fincher-directed, Ben Affleck-starring film adaptation since its release on Friday, you may still know all about Gone Girl‘s “Cool Girl” speech, solely because of the Internet, especially if your social media presence includes a Tumblr. [Spoilers ahead, obviously.]

In the short version of the speech, Amy — the “gone” girl of the title — having recently revealed herself as a very-alive evil genius and also probably a sociopath, discusses the masks we all wear in relationships through the scrim of what women pretend to be in order to lure men. This is a role she calls the “Cool Girl” (in a rant that seems relevant to various actresses’ public personas; my top pick is Cameron Diaz). The “cool girl” manages to be hot, brilliant, and great at stuffing hot dogs and hamburgers in her mouth, all while remaining sexually voracious and a size two.

“Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the cool girl,” Flynn writes, in Amy’s voice. It is a magnificent rant, and it makes perfect sense that it has transcended the context of Gone Girl the book and Gone Girl the movie to become its own nasty little insight into how we perform for others in relationships, an idea that’s particularly resonant for women. However, the “Cool Girl” speech is not the only thing that makes up Gone Girl, no matter what you read in the reviews of Fincher’s adaptation.

At BuzzFeed, Anne Helen Petersen writes about her frustration that the “Cool Girl” version of Amy is nowhere to be seen in the film’s first half. “And while First-Half Amy might have that body and that beauty, she doesn’t have that ineffable something, that irresistible gravity. That indelible sense of Cool Girl,” she writes. Petersen goes on to suggest that Amy should be more like a Mila Kunis IRL, or Oliva Wilde’s character in Drinking Buddies. According to Petersen, because the film doesn’t interrogate Amy’s “Cool Girl” performance, or give her character many layers in general, it becomes a simplistic noir about a “crazy fucking bitch.”

The A.V. Club’s Nico Lang has similar problems, which he attributes to the fact that the film takes away the “dueling narratives” about Amy’s marriage, both its birth and its dissolution. Nick’s run of awful luck when Amy goes missing sends the message that, “Nick might be a liar, a cheat, and an overall bastard, but he didn’t kill his wife, and for Fincher, that seems to be good enough.”

But both of these interpretations miss the point of the movie, of which gender is just one part. The movie doesn’t hinge on the “Cool Girl” theme — neither does the book, really — despite the fact that the rant can stand on its own as an indictment of both society and human nature while also revealing quite a bit about Amy’s mutable nature. Even as it stands in the movie, the “Cool Girl” rant is cut down to a couple of lines, flying through in the wind as the “real, true” Amy makes her very fake-looking escape, chowing down junk food and driving too fast. Relying too much on the “Cool Girl” to set the tone for all of Gone Girl conveniently forgets that Amy Dunne, the “gone” girl, is an unreliable narrator. Her story about the way she and Nick met and the way their marriage fell apart is all part of a neat narrative trick, set up to frame him for her inevitable death.

Amy’s diary, in the film, is rendered in flashbacks drive by voice-over. The scenes are short, hazy, like a memory. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score clangs over the soundtrack, dissonant and a bit unnerving. What should be a perfect memory, rendered in Rosamund Pike’s too-syrupy voice-over, is a bad dream. There’s no time for Amy to be Nick’s “Cool Girl” because she’s entirely too busy seducing the audience, to show that she’s the perfect missing woman, and that she’s very afraid that her husband may kill her.

Throughout the movie, Amy is mutable as hell. She’s a different woman in her flashback diary entries than she is at the camp with the rednecks. Amy is vulnerable at moments — when she’s robbed by the rednecks, when she sees Nick cheating, and using the same moves he pulled on her — but then that vulnerability is quickly turned over into steeliness. The best example of this is the Amy who lets her ex-boyfriend Desi take care of her, until she turns into a spider, a black widow ready to murder her way out of a bad corner (and in this case, the movie’s choice to cut out Desi’s greenhouse filled with Amy’s favorite flowers undercuts his creepy creep stalker bonafides, making Amy more conniving as a result).

Amy is cool throughout the film, as a sociopath and as somebody who has no actual personality underneath the veneer, as somebody who can be whatever you need from a beautiful blonde. Yet the movie doesn’t always do right by her — the idea that she’s a life ruiner, the sort who will come up with a fake rape accusation just to get revenge on boyfriends, makes her look simply crazy, as the two men who have suffered at Amy’s hands, Neil Patrick Harris’ Desi and Scoot McNairy, in a cameo, are just wimpy chumps. Book Desi is far more of a threat and a stalker, an equal match for Amy’s machinations.

In the hands of Fincher, Amy’s cool is of the femme fatale variety — icy, blonde, ready to become whoever she needs to be in order to win. Because if life is a game, and she needs to come out on top. “That’s marriage,” she sneers, towards the end of the movie, where twist after twist has led to the ultimate in mutual misery. She gave Nick everything he needed and he still wanted something else — to veer back to the Midwest, back to a 20-year-old coed with amazing boobs.

But after Amy proves herself truly “amazing,” able to be a true, seen-it-all survivor, she’s ready for the next step, so that the Dunnes can be a real family: bound by their contract, ready to tear each other apart for 18 more years. Cool doesn’t fit into this vision of marriage — rather, it’s a lie to both parties, a war that will continue until the kid’s old enough to get it. It’s an unsettling ending and proof that the real question of the book isn’t about who we are, in marriage and in life, but who we pretend to be.