“The Woman in the Window” is a film that has intrigued me for quite some time. I first heard about this psychological thriller in 2019 and I’ll admit the trailer drew me in bigtime. Based on the A.J. Finn novel of the same name “The Woman in the Window” stars Amy Adams as agoraphobic psychologist Dr. Anna Fox who seems to witness her new neighbor Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman) kill his wife Jane (Julianne Moore). The movie was initially scheduled for release in October of 2019 and then just kind of disappeared. Poor pre-screening reactions led 20th Century Studios (formerly 20th Century Fox) to push back its release to 2020 and the pandemic created further delays eventually leading to its release on May 14, 2021 on Netflix. I’ve been fascinated by this movie’s journey and all the preexisting hatred critics had for it especially given its talented cast and the fact that Joe Wright, who has numerous award season favorites to his named like “Pride & Prejudice”, “Atonement” and “Darkest Hour”, was behind the camera…but he also made the horrible Peter Pan origin movie “Pan” and this film is much more akin to that train wreck than Wright’s previous successes. “The Woman in the Window” is a mess but is it a mess worth seeing? Putting it simply…kind of, yeah.
“The Woman in the Window” is written by Tracy Letts, more notable for writing for theater than the big screen and it shows with this film. This movie feels like an attempt to adapt a stage production to the screen using limited set pieces and character centric narratives to drive home the plot. That right there may actually be why this movie fails to be a truly engaging psychological thriller from a story and script perspective. This is a book written for the big screen by a playwright, three different mediums mashed together trying to coexist. It’s not uncommon to see a book or play adapted to film but when someone known for writing for the stage brings a book to the screen directed by someone like Joe Wright who works solely in film I feel like you start to dilute the methods of storytelling a bit. Each of these individuals has a different way to tell the story and the entire time it feels like those methods are battling it out for supremacy.
What almost saves this movie are the performers with the likes of Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore and Fred Hechinger doing everything they can to keep the audience invested providing layered characters and taking advantage of both in-your-face and subtle moments to allow the mystery of what lies beneath the surface to shine. “The Woman in the Window” is a prime example of how capable performers can, in fact, sometimes outshine the mediocrity of the material they’re working with. I just reviewed “Those Who Wish Me Dead” earlier this week where I commented how good performances couldn’t outweigh the flaws of that movie, well this film is kind of the opposite. There’s a scene early on in the film with Adams’s Dr. Fox meets Moore’s Jane Russell for the first time and watching these two immensely talented actresses just talk to each other is completely engrossing despite the conversation being placed in the middle of a first half hour where it feels like little to nothing happens to push the story forward. The script might be meandering but they sell it so well that even knowing how overwritten it was I just enjoyed seeing two greats as work. Now, not everyone shines their brightest. Jennifer Jason Leigh is completely wasted, Wyatt Russell has a few notable moments but is mostly underutilized and Anthony Mackie has had more notable performances to his name, but the performers that do shine are what keep this movie from feeling like a complete waste of time to me. I’ve rarely seen a film that lives so effectively off of the chemistry and talent of its cast while the rest of the material around them feels so lifeless and hollow.
And that’s exactly how I’d describe this movie as a whole, lifeless and hollow. There is clearly potential for more in-depth themes and the film does try to put a dramatic edge to things to help create an engaging mystery, but it never truly escapes the shadow of the previous movies like “Rear Window” that clearly served as a direct or indirect inspiration for the project. Director Joe Wright just isn’t at his best here and it truly feels like he is uninvested in bringing this story to life. Either that or he didn’t know how to properly adapt it to the screen. He clearly has talent for directing his actors, evident by the fact that the performances are what shine the most, but strange choices in the visuals, pacing and focus, despite being complimented by an effective but wasted Danny Elfman score, result in a film that feels like it’s trying too hard and not hard enough at the same time. Somehow all of these elements, the good and the bad, add up to a terrible movie that I actually kind of recommend because it serves as a not-so-shiny example of how different pieces of a movie can work but if the whole just doesn’t come together properly then even the best elements fall apart in the end.
“The Woman in the Window” really is a bad movie, but it’s entertainingly bad in some ways while it’s depressingly boring in most others. Despite enjoying the acting much of this movie feels confused or lifeless. It’s an interesting case of how hard it can be to adapt things to different mediums. What works in a book or on stage or on the big screen can’t always be easily brought over to the other two, so when you take a book and hand it to the playwright who sends a screenplay to a film director sometimes you get a mess like this that truly feels like competing approaches to storytelling that just never mesh. The only reason I’d ever truly recommend this movie is as an example of how even the good can’t outweigh the bad when it comes to mediocrity in film. If you want to watch a fun thriller about someone witnessing murder from their window, go watch “Rear Window”. It’s the original classic and does it so much better. It might seem harsh and hypocritical to call this one of the worst movies I’ve seen all year when I’m kind of recommending it, but the irony is the only reason you should watch it is to see just how bad things can get.