REVIEW: The Woman in the Window [2021]

Rating: 5 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 100 minutes
    Release Date: May 14th, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Netflix
    Director(s): Joe Wright
    Writer(s): Tracy Letts / A.J. Finn (novel)

It’s not really therapy if there’s a knife at your back.

No one seems to have been under any illusion that what they were making was in any way original. Director Joe Wright wouldn’t have his old movie lover lead character watching Alfred Hitchcock‘s Rear Window in the opening scene if he did. Much like Disturbia, however, comparing one work to another because of similar basic premises is usually just a way of proving your inability to realize all art is pretty much an amalgam of references anyway. We champion visual facsimiles as homage and denigrate familiar plots as hack jobs. To say one is valid and the other not is little more than self-indulgent hypocrisy. That’s especially true when one focuses on an aspect that pales in comparison to another considering author Daniel Mallory is an accused plagiarist.

If the name seems unfamiliar, it’s because The Woman in the Window‘s novelist used a pseudonym: A.J. Finn. With it comes a litany of lies he blames on his bipolar II disorder ranging from an Oxford doctorate to the (fake) deaths of family members. Even more, however, are the unattributed similarities to the 1995 film Copycat—too new a cinematic work for Wright to include on-screen alongside Laura and Spellbound on the TV and Gaslight in the hands of teenaged Ethan (Fred Hechinger) borrowing the DVD from our agoraphobic protagonist Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams). To therefore vociferously and lazily dismiss Anna witnessing a crime being committed across the street while stuck in her house is too much like Rear Window to accept travels well beyond disingenuous.

There are plenty of other structural problems to irk you besides a non-starter flamed by social media sentiment. Most thrillers of this kind possess them if for no other reason than the reality that airtight mysteries are often too simple to decipher. It’s why Rian Johnson‘s Knives Out was so effective: he tells his audience who the killer is so early that you don’t realize the film’s intent to show whether the culprit had covered up the crime was actually distracting us from discovering the first reveal was only half the truth. He subverted our expectations by putting double meaning onto exchanges that satisfied in the moment enough to let us forget about them until the time for their repurposing arrived. Neither Finn nor Wright provide such subtlety.

No, they give us the visual equivalent of a finger point whenever something meaningful happens. It’s like they’re daring us to pretend we don’t know Anna is ostensibly gaslighting herself into both believing something untoward is happening and pretending it’s not. So the film goes through its motions and gives us only what we need devoid of the excess that confusion and uncertainty demands. Is Dr. Landy (Tracy Letts, who also adapted the screenplay) here just to tell us Anna’s medication doesn’t react well with alcohol? Is Anna’s husband (Anthony Mackie) only heard via telephone for a reason beyond isolation? Is her introduction to Ethan’s mom Jane (Julianne Moore) full of one-off actions so we can’t help but catalog each for later? Everything is measured to suffocating degrees.

While that is a no-no for “prestige” pictures, however, The Woman in the Window is not, nor ever should have been labeled, “prestige” regardless of the talent involved. This is a pulpy checkout aisle novel whose goal is escapist thrills to talk about at the watercooler. Making Anna a pill-popping drunk so that we’re unsure of whether she’s remembering reality or hallucinations is part of the fun—if the tired trope of dismissing women leads as “hysterical” is your idea of fun. Just because there’s a reason (the agoraphobia was triggered by a traumatic experience) doesn’t make it any less frustrating. It merely helps the filmmakers pretend they’ve subverted the archaic depiction when they’ve really just exploited it for the plot’s means of deflecting one reveal with another.

And even that truth is underwhelming considering we’re only two-thirds through the runtime when the first arrives. That it’s the better reveal only makes the final third a slog of obvious machinations because what else is there to do but make good on the speculation that was initially proven “wrong”? If this was a seventy-minute-long film ending on Wright’s one sequence of visual ingenuity as past and present collide in a New York City brownstone, it would prove a success. The second we remember there’s still a half hour left, all the good will that was earned goes right out the window because the one thing able to stop us in our tracks becomes a speed bump the film quickly course corrects over to get back on track.

It’s a shame because it wastes a good Adams’ performance by breaking her character down to satisfy a non-twist twist rather than the psychological strife that caused it. What had been propelled by her secret is suddenly rendered secondary to someone else’s secret—one that’s far less interesting. The other characters become pawns as a result. Moore is gone too soon. Wyatt Russell is asked to shift between kind and aggressive to the point of laughter. Gary Oldman and Jennifer Jason Leigh are unable to compel us enough to care about their roles. And Brian Tyree Henry‘s sympathetic detective comes off more copaganda in comparison to his zero-bedside-manner partner (Jeanine Serralles) than a real ally. Anna’s reality ultimately proves more conveniently fantastical than her dark delusions.

In the end it’s difficult to really care enough to love or hate the finished product because there’s not enough to latch onto either way. Do its flaws make it a failure? Not when they’re the sort we expect from B-movies. Do its strengths cancel them out? Not enough to earn a recommendation beyond calling The Woman in the Window serviceable streaming content on a night when you’re unwilling to do any heavy lifting where your media consumption is concerned. I’m not sure what people expected it to be that got them so angry over what it was or what others saw that made them question those people’s taste because I conversely saw a forgettable movie that helped me kill a couple hours before moving onto something else.

[1] Woman in the Window (2021), L to R: Jennifer Jason Leigh as Jane Russell, Brian Tyree Henry as Detective Little, Amy Adams as Anna Fox, Gary Oldman as Alistair Russell, and Wyatt Russell as David.
[2] Woman in the Window (2021), L to R: Amy Adams as Anna Fox and Julianne Moore as Jane
[3] Woman in the Window (2021), Amy Adams as Anna Fox and Fred Hechinger as Ethan Russell

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.