Talent-rich The Woman in the Window undone by lackluster story
The Woman in the Window has had a very fraught history, starting with the publication of the novel by A.J. Finn (aka Dan Mallory), as the author's history of truth-telling is questionable. The screen rights had been sold well before publication, and after filming in 2018, the adaptation starring Amy Adams was set to be released in 2019.
But then Fox 2000, which made the film, was sold to Disney, causing one delay. And then the film was reportedly delayed further in order to be re-edited after it confused test audiences. And then the pandemic hit, during which Disney sold the film to Netflix, and here we are three years later and the movie is finally being released.
All of which is to say it’s best to keep your expectations low if you want to enjoy the film at all. Adams plays Dr. Anna Fox, a child psychologist whose practice has become non-existent due to her persistent case of agoraphobia. With her inability to go outside, she observes the world through the windows of her Manhattan brownstone, only interacting with people when they come to her door, including her own psychologist, Dr. Landy (Tracy Letts), and David (Wyatt Russell), who’s renting out her basement apartment.
Her fragile mental state is tested even further when she sees nefarious things happening with her new neighbors across the street, including what she believes is a murder. But with no proof to provide for the police, no way to investigate the crime herself, and people seemingly gaslighting her at every turn, even she starts to doubt her own sanity.
Directed by Joe Wright and written by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Letts, the film has an absolute embarrassment of riches in the talent department. In addition to six-time Oscar nominee Adams in the lead role, it has room for Oscar winner Gary Oldman, Oscar winner Julianne Moore, Oscar nominee Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emmy and Tony nominee Brian Tyree Henry, and not one but two different Captain Americas, Anthony Mackie and Russell.
All of that talent should result in a compelling whole, but any suspense the story might have had in book form got mostly lost in translation. The Rear Window comparison is obvious, and indeed, Wright makes sure to include an early scene of Anna watching the movie to acknowledge the reference. Watching movies are part of her nightly ritual, and trying to spot the reference with those films is a lot more fun than the story the film is trying to tell.
The filmmakers attempt to play the red herring game on multiple occasions, but they don’t commit to any of the side characters well enough to make the diversions work. Anna is the only character who truly matters, and it’s not until a third-act revelation that she becomes truly knowable, and by then it’s too little, too late. And even that disclosure is not all that shocking for any seasoned movie watcher, as the story all but spells it out throughout the film.
Adams is capable of great work, as she showed in 2019’s Vice, but this will not be remembered as one of her better roles. The other actors face a similar fate, with the exception of Henry, who brings a real empathy to his role as a detective. Oldman provides another over-the-top performance, but since his character is not fleshed out at all, it’s in service of nothing.
The Woman in the Window has not become any better with age. Talent on and off the screen can make up for a lot of faults, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do to save a dog of a story.
The Woman in the Window is streaming exclusively on Netflix.