Film Review – The Woman in the Window
The Woman in the Window
Here is a movie that is so blatantly artificial that it’s almost admirable. The Woman in the Window (2021) has such a synthetic feel to its execution that its style becomes the main draw. If we delve too deeply into story and character, it falls apart. The aesthetics – the camera work, editing, coloring, composition, etc. – is so abundantly over the top that credit has to be given strictly for its audacity. It’s as though it were playing a game with us, trying to see how silly and absurd it can go before we look away. This is a big and messy movie, but that’s what makes it fun.
Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Tracy Letts adapt A.J. Finn’s novel as though they took an abbreviated Alfred Hitchcock course. Subtlety does not exist here – they drop a number of cinematic tricks lifted directly from the Master of Suspense, particularly Rear Window (1954). If the message wasn’t clear enough, they feature a TV set actually playing the movie to drive the point home. There’s a plethora of film noir flourishes – the dark shadows, nighttime rain, light coming through Venetian blinds onto a character’s face, Dutch camera angles, the state of paranoia – it’s all there. Old movies are constantly being played. At one point a split diopter shot imposes a black and white movie behind a character in close up, making it look as though the two are interacting.
But does all of this aggressive craftsmanship amount to anything? Not really. What made Hitchcock so good was his ability to pull us in, to slowly amplify the tension to a boiling point once we reach the climax. Wright’s direction is not nearly as patient. He takes off right from the get-go – dropping us into the madhouse before we get acquainted with our surroundings. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography and Valerio Bonelli’s editing are at a fever pitch from the start, whipping the narrative at us. It’s like watching Vertigo (1958) for the first time but starting at the nightmare sequence.
Granted, there’s something to say about a movie that starts at a sprint and doesn’t really care if you can keep up. The production was riddled with issues from the Fox/Disney merger, to the pandemic, to test audiences reacting with confusion. The film was pushed back nearly two years and went through a number of edits and reshoots. What’s left feels like a jumble, a loosely assembled story that just barely (but not really) holds on to coherency. But that isn’t a bad thing. Because of its troubled production, the film has a spontaneous, “anything goes” attitude. It’s anything but boring. It goes from a mystery/thriller to all out camp, and we walk away wishing it went even further in that direction.
There is one big plus, and it is Amy Adams. Once again, Adams shows us how great she is as an actor, taking on a role that requires her to be charming, witty, frightened, edgy, and vulnerable, sometimes all in the same scene. She plays Anna, a child psychiatrist who has suffered a breakdown. She’s become agoraphobic, locking herself away in her New York brownstone home with her downstairs tenant (Wyatt Russell) as her only available source of human connection. Anna spends her days watching old movies, mixing her medication with alcohol, and spying on her neighbors.
Her newest neighbor are the Russells, made up of father Alistair (Gary Oldman), mother Jane (Julianne Moore) and son Ethan (Fred Hechinger). At first, they seem like a well to do, normal family. Ethan is a boyish, shy kid, and Jane (whose name is a reference to the Hollywood actress) is friendly and free spirited. There are hints that Jane could be the friend that Anna desperately needs. That is, until one night when Anna looks out of her window and sees Jane apparently getting murdered from across the street.
Anna jumps into detective mode, trying to piece out what happened and alert authorities from the confines of her home. But soon enough, we start questioning whether what she saw was real or a figment of her fractured psyche. Detectives Little (Brian Tyree Henry) and Norelli (Jeanine Serralles) show up with Alistair and another woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who claims that she is the actual Jane and the person Anna met never existed. Anna becomes a prisoner of her own suspicions, trying to convince anyone to believe her but only getting concerned looks in return.
There are plenty of twists and turns riddled throughout The Woman in the Window, but they’re of little consequence. What holds everything together is Amy Adam’s committed, deep dive performance. Even in a movie that doesn’t really work, she remains the anchor. Anna is a person who has experienced trauma and puts much of the guilt on her shoulders. That is what fuels her determination is uncover the truth, even if it’s all just in her head. Adams is one of our finest actors, who can do just about anything despite not having a lot to work with. Here, the writing and direction gives her free reign to show off her range. Compare this to what she does in last year’s Hillbilly Elegy (2020), where she is instructed to simply be turned up the entire time.
This is one of those occasions where I’m aware a movie isn’t very good, but I almost want to recommend that you watch it. The Woman in the Window has a lot of potential that it doesn’t live up to, but oddly accomplishes something it probably wasn’t aiming for. It operates as a caricature, leaning towards a possible cult following as opposed to serious dramatic consideration. It’s dumb and goofy, but what’s wrong with that?