The Woman in the Window is the perfect example of a bad movie that’s kind of good. Or better yet, a film that’s not all that bad but also not that good either. It’s a movie that’s never as clever as it thinks it’s but also never as fun as it could be.
Joe Wright’s The Woman in the Window is an adaptation of the book of the same name by A.J. Finn. Tracy Letts, who also plays a therapist in the film, adapts the book for the screen. The film borrows heavily from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and not, believe it or not, the Fritz Lang classic The Woman in the Window. Lest we think for a moment otherwise, Wright’s film opens up with the main character Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams), watching Rear Window.
She’s not just watching Rear Window; she’s studying it frame by frame. Early on in the film Wright and his DP Bruno Delbonnel pan by Anna’s laptop, which is playing the climactic scene from Rear Window frame by frame. The phrase “on the nose” was made for movies like The Woman in the Window.
Or, maybe it wasn’t. This movie is a jumbled mess, and considering the talent in front and behind the camera, it’s a miracle it’s as watchable as it is. Wright spends a lot of time trying to misdirect our attention but ends up only causing us to become hyper-aware. But all of it compares to the film’s biggest flaw: the entire movie being from Anna’s point of view and clueing us in from the start that she’s an unreliable narrator.
What this does is put us on alert and simultaneously having us take nothing for granted. It’s hard to be drawn into a web of mystery and intrigue when you don’t believe anything you see or are told. Which is a shame considering how hard both Wright and Delbonnel are working to craft a visual narrative. The two men obviously love Hitchcock as Rear Window is far from the only Hitchcock movie Anna watches, though why a child psychologist suffering from trauma and afraid to leave her apartment is on a Hitchcock binge is never really explained.
Granted, it doesn’t need to be explained. It’s just that we spend so much of the movie throwing our hands up in the air that we can’t help but focus on the things we know to be factual. Time and time again, a scene will present reality to us only to have it revealed either in the next scene or two later that it was all in Anna’s head.
Done right, this could be an absorbing trek through a character’s psyche. In Wright’s hands, however, it is watchable but often irritating.
Anna, trapped in her house, watches her neighbors live their lives of quiet desperation. Yet, she isn’t yearning to escape-to live her life; she’s retreating more and more into her psyche. Then one day, a new family moves into the apartment across the street. Soon Anna’s life begins to dovetail and spiral into a quagmire of murder, affairs, and psychotic breaks.
Did she witness someone murder Jane (Julianne Moore)? Why does her husband Ed (Anthony Mackie) seem so distant and volatile? How much of this is accurate, and how much of this is Anna’s imagination?
The movie works so hard to make it where you don’t care about anything, which is almost impressive. The Woman in the Window is frankly exhausting. It refuses to play straight with us, but it’s so bad at trying to trick us we ultimately see the next plot reveal miles away. Until the last thirty minutes, when Wright and Letts take their hands off the steering wheel and let the movie fly off the rails. For a film that has primarily been a clumsily built house of cards, the film’s ending is an all-out brutal WWE-style brawl between Anna and the killer during a midnight thunderstorm.
Had the movie been as wild and truly unhinged as the last thirty minutes, it might have been an enjoyable movie. But The Woman in the Window believes itself to be a classy movie with an A-list cast but is, in reality, just pulpy trash. But since it never revels in this aspect, it comes off almost plodding at times.
Amy Adams, as Anna is, without question, is giving an excellent performance. It is so profoundly and richly crafted that it’s a shame that it’s amidst all this dreck. Adams’s character adds depth to what is essentially on paper a boozy addict who seems to be loathed by everyone, including the filmmakers.
At times Wright and Delbonnel do an excellent job marrying the camera flourishes with Anna’s mental state. One scene stands out for its visual simplicity. Anna is trying to dig through her wine-addled memory of the conversation with Jane (Julianne More). She is sitting in the dark, rocking back and forth, the camera gliding in time as it frames the earlier scene between the two through a half-open door.
These moments hint at a better movie just out of reach of the filmmaker’s grasp. Moore’s performance is suitable for the film The Woman in the Window should be but seems out of place in the movie. It makes her performance is one of my favorites, simply because it’s broader than everybody else’s who appears to be playing it straight.
Even Gary Oldman, who plays Alistair, the disgruntled and at times violent husband, seems adrift. He’s fine, but he doesn’t seem to understand when he’s supposed to be playing Alistair and when he’s supposed to be playing Anna’s version of Alistair. Then again, we don’t know either.
Delbonnel’s camerawork is so good I wish Wright knew how to utilize it better. The transitions and lighting throughout The Woman in the Window are so refreshing that it makes the movie watchable. Still, Wright’s refusal to play straight with us or his characters almost cancels any goodwill. The moment Anna realizes the truth about her family is one of the film’s better moments but is then practically erased by the film’s worse impulse, which is to play the dramatic as the mundane.
Lett’s dialogue is theatrical and weirdly fits with the flashy style of the film. People don’t talk like this, but that’s okay people don’t behave like this either. It works within the movie’s reality though it would be nice if Wright could have allowed his actors more to make it sing.
The movie dares to waste Letts, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bryan Tyree Henry in parts that are essentially decoys and red herrings. It is another in a litany of frustrations the movie inspires. Then there’s poor Wyatt Russell as Anna’s tenant David. David is given more backstory, more than almost anyone else, for no real reason.
The Woman in the Window is all form and irritable function. It’s packed wall to wall with visual flourishes but in service of a narrative that does little to try and obfuscate that which it could have achieved just as easily being upfront about.
Imagine a movie where a character comes on screen, and before he says a single line, you cry out, “That’s him! He’s the one who did it! He’s the killer!” Except when the said character comes on screen, there isn’t a body. But we know there will be, but the movie doesn’t realize it. The Woman in the Window is the rare movie that is three steps behind the audience.
Image courtesy of Netflix
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