THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (2021)
Starring Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Fred Hechinger, Anthony Mackie, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Tracy Letts, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeanine Serralles, Mariah Bozeman, Daymien Valentino, Donat Balaj, Liza Colón-Zayas and the voices of Anna Cameron, Myers Bartlett, Haven Burton, Ben Davis and Blake Morris.
Screenplay by Tracy Letts.
Directed by Joe Wright.
Distributed by Netflix. 102 minutes. Rated R.
It’s always a bit of a disappointment when a novel you really enjoyed is made into a not terribly good movie. Sure, you go into most filmed novels expecting it cannot be as good as the source material, but you hold out hope that it will recapture some of the magic.
And sadly, the film version of AJ Finn’s bestselling debut novel The Woman in the Window misses most of that enchantment.
That is particularly disappointing when the movie has so much talent behind it. It has a terrific cast that includes Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Brian Tyree Henry and Jennifer Jason Leigh. It is helmed by respected arthouse director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement). The screenplay is written by playwright/actor Tracy Letts (August: Osage County, Bug, Superior Donuts). Letts also plays a psychologist in the movie.
So, how did it happen that with all this star power and the terrific source material, the climax of the movie feels disappointingly like a typical mad stalker film – and not a very good one at that? The weird part is that the ending isn’t all that much different than it was on the page, but it feels different (and lesser) while watching it play out.
The Woman in the Window is a variation of the old Hitchcock film Rear Window (a connection which is made explicit in the film by showing a brief clip of that film on a big screen TV early in the film).
A woman named Anna (Adams) is stuck in her house huge old Harlem brownstone and spends the days watching her neighbors. Unlike Jimmy Stewart’s character, she is not homebound due to a broken leg. Anna is a child psychiatrist who is also a complete agoraphobic (afraid of leaving her own home) due to a recent trauma, which is not explained until well into the story. She is separated from her husband and young daughter and spends her days talking to them on the phone, having food delivered, binging on old movies, mixing prescription drugs and wine, and watching her neighbors.
So, yes, pretty much the entirety of the film takes place in this one house (other than a few short scenes which make it out onto the street below). Of course, this particular townhouse is huge; a five-story brownstone complete with a finished basement and a roof garden. (Riddle me this, how can a mostly unemployed child psychiatrist afford to live in such a massive old place in a gentrified neighborhood in modern New York?)
The story revolves around a mysterious new family that moves across the street – the Russells. Alistair, his wife Jane and son Ethan. Anna meets Ethan early on (Mrs. Russell sent him over with a gift) and takes a liking to the awkward boy. She then meets a woman who she takes as his mother – who is a little dodgy about the fact but seems to be. Soon afterwards, looking in the apartment window, she sees the woman apparently getting murdered.
She reports the attack to the police, but it turns out that Jane Russell is very much alive, and a woman who Anna had never met. Now Anna must try to prove that she is not crazy and has seen a crime, even though no one believes her.
This limitation of settings and characters should give the story a claustrophobic, creepy vibe – and it did in the book – however, it somehow never quite connects in the film, which is a shame. It is mostly faithful to the book, but of course in a feature film it loses much of the background and character development which made the book so interesting.
The acting was mostly very good, with the exception of Gary Oldman as Alistair Russell (wildly chewing scenery like he inevitably does in his inexplicably overrated acting career). However, Amy Adams as always rises to the challenge and Julianne Moore makes an indelible impression in her short appearance as the apparent victim.
The writing was also very sharp, and the direction and cinematography was intriguing. So, why does The Woman in the Window feel so empty? Even before the climax it wasn’t quite connecting, and by the time the final twist is revealed it comes off as a bit of a cheap exploitation film, far from what it was going for.
The Woman in the Window has spent a good amount of time on the back burner and in limbo. It was actually filmed in 2018 and originally planned for a 2019 release, but unexpected delays – like its studio 20th Century Fox being sold to Disney, bad test audience reactions causing reshoots and the COVID epidemic – have kept its release being sidelined until it is now being somewhat stealthily slipped onto Netflix two years later.
It is probably worth seeing, although it ends up being a bit of a disappointment. Even better, pick up the book.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2021 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 14, 2021.