In the first few minutes of the new thriller The Woman in the Window, there’s a fleeting image of Jimmy Stewart from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 masterpiece, Rear Window. With such a blatant reference, the filmmakers are basically announcing, “Hey, this isn’t just another cheesy thriller. It’s a homage to a great director!”
Fair enough, but as a viewer, you’ll ask yourself why the movie bothers to tip a hat to the Master of Suspense when it’s no more than a middling soap opera? The biggest problem with Joe Wright’s glitzy whodunnit isn’t that it’s trashy. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a little lurid entertainment from time to time? No, it’s simply not trashy enough. If you’re going to rummage in the dumpster, don’t pick at the curds apprehensively — jump in and take a big whiff! This movie is too anodyne to be vulgar and way too self-conscious to be clever. You only wish someone hired an Italian Giallo director to fuck shit up with some black gloves and splattered blood.
Amy Adams plays Anna Fox, a child psychologist who suffers from agoraphobia (fear of open spaces). Anna pads around her gargantuan Victorian brownstone in a ratty robe, popping pills and swilling bottles of wine. She spends most of her days talking on the phone with her estranged husband before passing out on the couch watching old movies. If ever there was a story that addresses the problems of privileged white people, this is it. The only person she encounters is her psychiatrist played by Tracy Letts (who also adapted the screenplay from A.J. Finn’s novel). From their sessions, we gather that something tragic happened to Anna.
Soon enough, Anna starts snooping on her new neighbors across the street. For someone who never leaves the house, she encounters them quickly, first meeting their 15-year-old son, Ethan (Fred Hechinger) and his mother, Jane Russell (Julianne Moore). One night, Anna witnesses Jane’s murder from her window and calls the police. When the husband, Alistair (Gary Oldman), shows up with the cops to prove he never killed anyone by introducing her to his wife, Jane — who is not Julianne Moore, but Jennifer Jason Leigh — we start to wonder if Anna really witnessed a murder or if she’s just mentally deteriorating. After a contrived, but passable first act, the movie just slogs along and we feel like Anna lumbering around the house in her pajamas. There is literally no tension in this film.
With an embryonic script by Letts (Killer Joe) and a talented director like Wright (Darkest Hour) at the helm, not to mention a cache of A-list actors, you’d expect more from this dull attempt to reignite the potboiler. Wright utilizes every nuanced trick from the directorial handbook to inject energy into this hackneyed story. From Dario Argento-inspired color palettes to hallucinatory imagery and extreme close-ups, some devices are visually impressive, but the narrative just lays there, paralyzed, that is, before the story wanders into an eye-rolling “message” film.
The actors here do what they can with their thankless roles. Poor Adams can’t catch a break on the caricatured portraits. First Hillbilly Elegy, now this? The only players who seem to know that this is unadorned sleaze are Gary Oldman and Julianne Moore, who chew up the scenery with gusto, regardless. The Woman in the Window isn’t boring as much as tiresome. Somebody forgot to tell the filmmakers that when you make B-grade junk, you should lose the primetime sentimentality and go full Lifetime. ❖
On Netflix now.
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