It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a new movie that could qualify for the “so bad it’s good” designation, but The Woman in the Window comes pretty darn close. Already infamous for being long-delayed (it was supposed to open in theaters in 2019) and for its extensive reshoots, the Joe Wright-directed adaptation of the bestselling novel arrives on Netflix and robs a bunch of talented people of their dignity in the process. Here is proof that you can hire a skilled director, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, and a killer cast and still end up with junk. But is it at least entertaining junk? No, not really. You might get a cheap thrill from the absurdity of it all, though.
Amy Adams, one of our best working actresses, slums it by going extremely over-the-top as Dr. Anna Fox, a child psychologist who is housebound due to agoraphobia. She sees a therapist (played by Tracy Letts, who also penned the script, although you sure wouldn’t know it while watching this), washes her medication down with copious amounts of wine, and spies on her neighbors in her posh New York neighborhood. This is, of course, Hitchcockian Rear Window territory, and director Joe Wright doesn’t try to hide it – he throws in an actual shot from Rear Window mere minutes into the film’s start. But that’s a big mistake because you should never directly remind an audience of a masterpiece during your lousy movie. They might be inspired to turn your movie off and go watch the better film instead. And in this case, they probably should.
Anna is a mess. She’s often angry and confused, and almost constantly drunk. This style of living has pushed away her family, and she has long, tender-but-sad phone conversations with her absent husband (Anthony Mackie). With only her cat for company, she seems lost and lonely, so it’s a little understandable when she gets hung up on her new neighbors across the street, the Russells. She first meets the son of the family, a socially awkward kid named Ethan (Fred Hechinger) who stops by one day. Later, she meets Ethan’s mother Jane, played by Julianne Moore. The two women hit it off almost immediately and guzzle a lot of wine. It’s fun to watch Adams and Moore playing drunk, but that only gets us so far.
Things take a dark turn when Anna looks out her window one night and sees Jane being brutally murdered in the Russell home. Wright foregoes any sense of subtlety here and literally has cartoony blood splash onto the screen in front of Anna’s face as if she were a video game character in a first-person shooter who just sustained battle damage. Anna is convinced that Jane’s husband, Ethan’s father, Alistair (Gary Oldman) has murdered Jane, and she rushes to call the cops. A kindly detective (Brian Tyree Henry, the only person here who seems capable of delivering a good performance with this material) arrives – but ah, here comes a twist! Alistar and Ethan insist Jane hasn’t been murdered. And to prove it, they produce Jane, alive and well. But to Anna’s horror and confusion, Jane is a completely different person, now played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Just what is going on here? Did Anna really witness a murder? Or is she simply a crazy pill-popping cat lady, as one character calls her. Anna is convinced she’s right and tries to get to the bottom of things, but that’s not so easy since she can’t leave her house due to agoraphobia. And everyone is a suspect, including David (Wyatt Russell), the handsome guy who rents a room in Anna’s basement.
None of this is particularly original, and that’s fine – you could, in theory, develop a familiar-but-capable thriller from all of these elements. But Wright never has a handle on the material. He seems to think that the best way to make the film scary is by making it loud and disorienting, so the soundtrack is always blazing, the camera is always tilting and spinning, and scenes are always cutting away at truly awkward moments, as if the editor got sick of dealing with all of this. We also never get a real sense of the layout of Anna’s house, which is odd since we spend almost the entire movie there. Wright does a poor job of communicating the space, although cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel‘s lighting is appropriately moody and occasionally appealing.
Adams is at the center of it all, and her performance is best described as manic. To be fair, that’s how Anna is supposed to be – she’s a drunk pill-popper who may or may not be going insane. But Adams’s work here is so extremely dialed-up to the max that it’s almost alarming. I wasn’t worried for the fictional character Anna Fox here, I was worried for Amy Adams. How did this happen? How did such a fantastic performer muck this up?
Perhaps it’s not her fault. Perhaps the extensive reshoots the film underwent created something of a Frankenstein’s monster – a lumbering beast that’s been cobbled together from spare parts. The David character seems to suffer the most from this – one minute he’s the nicest guy in the world. A split-second later, he’s a jerk. He’s also forced to deliver one of the film’s goofy jumpscares when he literally pops his head into the frame and yells “BOO!” at Anna. Terrifying!
Is there a better version of this movie somewhere? Was the pre-reshoot version actually more promising than all of this, and test audiences just didn’t get it? Maybe. Letts is a hell of a writer, but he’s also been saddled with a cheap, derivative beach read; a book that wasn’t so much written as it was designed to shoot up to the top of the bestseller list. Maybe Letts and Wright should’ve just tossed the entire book in the trash and made up something from scratch.
The Woman in the Window is so silly and broad that it begins to border on camp, and I have a feeling this could become the type of cheesy dreck that people get a hoot out of if they follow Anna’s lead and down one or two or ten bottles of wine. By the time the film climaxes with multiple predictable but utterly preposterous twists, you’ll probably be reaching for a bottle yourself.
/Film Rating: 4.5 out of 10
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