Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Tracy Letts
Welcome to the “based on the best-selling novel” genre, with this entry for Netflix to their streaming fare, The Woman in the Window, a title delayed a couple times I think, partially and perhaps mostly due to the pandemic, but also partially I think due to the quality of the film. Delays and push backs of films are never a good sign, especially when they include such stars as Amy Adams, Gary Oldman and Julianne Moore. Usually a good movie with a star studded cast gets pushed out as soon as possible, or at least in alignment with awards season for maximum publicity and attention. The Woman in the Window got neither treatment, being dumped on streaming in mid-May. But those following the development and production of the film, like me, are excited to finally set eyes on this interesting film to see for ourselves whether it can as good as its potential warrants, or whether it truly is as bad as we all fear it might be.
Anna (Amy Adams) is an agoraphobic (afraid of the outside), living by herself in a large brownstone in Manhattan, with only a mysterious basement tenant (Wyatt Russell) and her cat to keep her company. She sees a therapist (Tracy Letts) on a regular basis to help with her condition, but when a new family moves in next door, she begins to see things that may or may not be there (based on her drinking and the amount of medication she is on). Ethan (Fred Hechinger), the son, drops by to deliver a gift for their new neighbor, and Anna soon spends a night with the mother, Jane (Julianne Moore). But when she sees what appears to be Jane’s murder, Alastair Russell (Gary Oldman) and the responding detective (Brian Tyree Henry), assure her that there has been no foul play. Being an unreliable witness, Anna begins to doubt everything she has seen, while being paralyzed not only by her condition, but also her fear.
The film is directed by Joe Wright, a director I like quite a bit, but whose recent past has included some clunkers, like the universally “panned” Pan. But he is a more than capable storyteller when given the right material and motivation. With The Woman in the Window, the story, adapted by the beloved Tracy Letts, is somewhat a mix between last year’s The Father, with illusions of reality and confusion of what might actually be happening, and an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. There are some very overt references throughout to Hitchcock films, with the premise being similar to Rear Window and Anna being affected by a condition like in Vertigo, two of Hitch’s masterpiece films. The Woman in the Window never aspired to quite the high level of those, however, feeling much more like the pulpy novel it was based on, feeling closer to a Lifetime thriller than a Hitchcock masterpiece, for better or worse.
The greatest problem with the film seems to be the tone, throughout. I struggled throughout to tell whether it was taking itself too seriously, or not serious enough, and unfortunately I think it’s more the former than the latter, which makes it all the easier to roll my eyes at and laugh at. Amy Adams and trying, but perhaps a little too hard, in the lead role. Gary Oldman, a great actor, is likewise hamming it up a bit too much here. But Joe Wright’s control of tone and camerawork does the actors no favors, by creating visuals and atmosphere which are a little too self-serious, and therefore silly, to fully buy into. The twists and turns are somewhat telegraphed, and end up being choregraphed in ineffective ways, but there is a good, fun suspense thriller behind this. The story is there for a tense, well produced mystery that unravels at the right pace, features the right performances, and effectively scares and stimulates the audience for 100 minutes. But Joe Wright’s finished product here fails to do that.
I would love to know the whole story behind the production of this film, because as I said before, the names involved have all proven themselves more than capable of collaborating on a great film, and the underlying story here is ripe with tense filmmaking opportunity and a great movie if delivered correctly. So what went wrong? Perhaps that autopsy is not a very fruitful endeavor, and instead I should just move on from this failed project, like all those involved will likely do, and go on about my day and still manage to look forward to the next Amy Adams film, the next Joe Wright film, the next Gary Oldman film, as I know they will still produce more good work, and work much more entertaining and well made than The Woman in the Window turned out to be. Sometimes we miss. We just have to forget all about it and move on. Better not to dwell.