The Woman in the Window (2021)
Updated: May 17, 2021
Joe Wright's foray into the noirish world is thin, unsatisfying, and very Netflix.
Plot: An agoraphobic woman Anna Fox (Amy Adams) witnesses her neighbor Jane Russell (Julliane Moore) being murdered from her window...
How it rolls: Depressed, alcoholic, and suffering from acute agoraphobia, Anna Fox, a child psychologist, spends her time mixing drinks and drugs prescribed by her doctor. She has had a divorce with her and her only daughter lives with him. The only other person who shares her apartment is her tenant David (Wyatt Russell), a philandering wanna-be actor with whom Anna has minimum interaction.
One day she is visited by her new neighbor Ethan (Fred Hechinger). Nervous and eager to be heard, Anna senses that Fred's father Alistair (Gary Oldman) is too controlling. Even abusive. Her fears are confirmed when she is visited by Jane Russell (Julianne Moore). Her obsession with the family gradually increasing, she starts to observe the Russells through her camera with a telephoto lens, and one day she ends up seeing Jane getting stabbed and killed.
The police dismiss her claims as Jane Russell is not only alive... she is a completely different person (Jennifer Jason Leigh)!
My Thoughts: Joe Wright, the director of this film is usually associated with high-brow, visually ravishing, epic-period literary adaptations that arrive in a cinema near Oscar season (mostly with Keira Knightley in tow). The purported universal themes of these 'prestige pictures' are cloaked in glossy respectability and its weight is borne by various veterans who are as much 'oscar hopefuls' as the filmmakers.
On the face of it, the film under review does not seem like it fits the bill of what is commonly called 'Oscar Bait'. It is just May, after all, and the red carpets are gathering some dust before they are unfurled (or not, considering the ongoing pandemic.) This is also a genre film. Something, that Academy Award voters usually don't seem to regard well.
But one look at that cast, the lush cinematography, and the artistically stagy sets, I got the feeling that Wright is trying what many respectable Hollywood directors have been trying since 'The Godfather' - a film that American critics insist is a work of art from the pulp. As if 'the pulp' is not a part of the same art form. Award-winning filmmakers have been trying to achieve the feat of turning what they see as an ugly duckling, into a swan. They do this without realizing that when pulp material becomes art, it does so by engaging with its 'pulpiness'. It reveals human nature and the same universal themes that Academy voters look for by engaging in the dirt, grime, and sleaziness that the genre offers, not by maintaining a snooty distance from it. That is why a The Silence of the Lambs and a Dressed to Kill achieve respectability. They embrace the luridness of their subject matter and consider their narrative skills respectable enough.
Wright looks as much embarrassed to be making a genre picture as Academy Voters would be voting for it. The choke-full of cinematic references sound like an apologetic attempt to prove distance from its genre. It seems to say, 'Yeah, I'm doing this but I am also deconstructing it, wink-wink.' She supposedly has a big collection of films but they almost completely remain off-screen. When Ethan borrows some films, I personally, would have liked to know what he chose. But Wright does not seem interested in this. He is not the only one to blame here, though.
Frankly, the book that this film is based on is terrible. the references and the fact that the lead watches a lot of old thrillers adds nothing to the plot or affect the character's behaviors. The book was touted as 'Hitchcockian', and I'm sure many will describe the film with the same adjective. Mainly because it borrows the main plot of Rear Window. But 'Hitchcockian' is not just a thrilling plot with a blunt, gripping simplicity. Hitchcockian is also the patience in the way a plot is built, the painstaking details with which the characters are established, and the fluidity with which the whole thing is executed. Like most Netflix productions, all these things are missing here.
The financial troubles of a character are a motivational bedrock in a thriller with noirish sensibilities. Wright does not seem concerned about establishing factors like how an agoraphobic, borderline addict child psychologist earns her living. The book, at least, shows her taking online sessions.
Frankly, the novel it is based on is terrible. It has the same cardboard characters, the same heroine who is only defined by her addiction, her disease, and her tragedy. It has the same unnecessary cinematic references and is ultimately just another potboiler in a sea of domestic thriller genres populated with hysterical women and popularised by the success of Gillian Flynn. The book's ending, the who-done-it, could be seen coming from a mile. It is still a creepy realization for the heroine who makes the discovery herself. Wright probably thinks that this discovery is too weak so he replaces this with a 'shock' confession. This only makes Anna Fox as weaker.
Amy Adams is supposed to have gained some weight to portray this character. Pity that no one has figured out how to show the difference in her flashbacks. She is good as Amy Adams usually is. my favorite performance here is of Julianne Moore. As a woman who could be Anna Fox's new neighbor Jane Russell, she is able to make her character memorable.
The Woman in the Window is not bad. When Wright's style works, it's even good. Anna Karenina employed theater to tell its story. It lends that epic some visual freshness and intimacy. The setting here is something that might automatically call for a stage he does not really go through with this opportunity. There is one scene, though, when Anna is remembering an accident, she sees an overturned car in the room of her house. The entire cast stands around staring at her with a mixture of pity and irritation as she confronts her past. She is finally revealed not to others but to herself too. And the scene with Julliane Moore, that comes close to some sense of fun is some bright moments.
They also indicate what kind of a film this had the potential to be - a thrilling, yet intimate psychological study of a woman. Too bad that it knows how to quote from others, but gives no indication that it understands, that it wants to embellish it or, perhaps most important, even enjoy it.
I hope that if you seek this film, you get confused with this: