The doomed ‘Woman in the Window’ adaptation on Netflix is about as bad as you could expect
The Woman in the Window is a tangle of cinematic cliches and bad impulses and inexplicable acting, adapted from a best selling novel by a noted liar and likely plagiarist. But it’s also just sitting there, available, on Netflix. Aren’t you kind of curious to see how lousy it is?
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At its core, the movie’s a lazy spin on Rear Window, with Amy Adams playing Anna Fox, an agoraphobe who witnesses a violent incident across the street from her New York home. In case the allusion wasn’t clear, her character spends a lot of time drunkenly watching Hitchcock movies, including Rear Window, when she’s not traipsing around her menacingly shadowy house. You’ll also recognize the unreliable narrator woman/girl (Gone, On the Train, etc.) literary trope. As the plot unspools, it may remind you of a lot of middling thrillers from the 1990s. And possibly, if you’re a real cinephile, the 1944 Fritz Lang movie The Woman in the Window.
THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW
★ (1/5 stars)
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Tracy Letts
Starring: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Wyatt Russell
Running time: 100 min
They initially made this new Woman in the Window back in 2018, before the exposes about author A.J. Finn/Dan Mallory came out. This might explain the presence of Adams, director Joe Wright (Darkest Hour) and Tony and Pulitzer-winning screenwriter Tracy Letts, who also plays the role of Anna’s shrink. And Gary Oldman and Julianne Moore! But there’s no logical explanation for the way this movie misunderstands life in New York, or more broadly, how humans behave. And the rewrites by Tony Gilroy don’t appear to have helped. An even slightly better film might have survived its time on the shelf and emerged as a hat-tip to the mass claustrophobia we just endured. This is not that movie.
There are few places better suited to being an agoraphobe than New York City. You can order absolutely anything in, and as long as you’re not playing the drums at three in the morning, nobody’s really going to bother you. There’s a reason people there joke/worry about dying and no one discovering them for three days. But this wouldn’t be an issue for Anna, who lives in an absolutely enormous entire house in Harlem. Because people will not stop popping into her enormous house!
There’s her dirtbag renter (Wyatt Russell), who lives in the basement but wanders in sometimes to bring Anna’s mail and, it seems, just to be randomly hostile. There’s a teenager (Fred Hechinger) whose family has just moved in across the street. They send him over to Anna’s bearing a scented candle. From his parents. Because they’re neighbors? I haven’t lived in New York for some years now, but if memory serves, this is not a big tradition there.
Ethan seems twitchy and sad. Anna, who is a child psychologist, suspects his father (Oldman) is abusing him. Then she meets Ethan’s mom (Moore), who is named Jane Russell, because… old movies? She also seems troubled. She just happens to be at Anna’s door when Anna faints as her house is being egged on Halloween. Even this scene is risible, as Anna bellows the obvious out the mail slot at the marauding children: “This is my HOUSE!” Moore’s character comes right on into Anna’s place, like everyone does. She stays for hours, the two drinking wine and playing cards and talking about their innermost feelings, even though they’ve never met before and Anna supposedly has a huge anxiety disorder.
Soon after, Anna sees the Bad Thing happen to Jane Russell across the street, and she spirals. Just like her staircase, which, Wright shows us multiple times, is a spiral. Like in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Anna has some major trauma in her past, which has driven her husband and daughter away. She drinks and takes pills. It all gets worse after the Bad Thing happens, especially because nobody believes her. Is she being gaslit, like in Gaslight?
More people come and go from Anna’s place, as we move toward the inevitable twist ending, which isn’t much of a twist. Everyone who suddenly shows up in Anna’s enormous house seems disproportionately angry. Two detectives are there, yelling questions in Anna’s face. Gary Oldman is there, screaming at Anna. Dirtbag renter, also yelling. In the most generous interpretation, Wright is trying to show us the world from Anna’s anxious, pill-addled point of view, and that that’s why there’s no narrative flow whatsoever and everyone seems like a rage robot. The more likely story is simply that the source material is garbage. Letts sums it up in his commentary on trying to adapt the book: “It kind of sucked.” Meanwhile, Mallory will be punished for his literary misdeeds by having Jake Gyllenhaal play him on TV. Oh, the humanity.
2 thoughts on “Broken ‘Window’”
I’m a little surprised that Tracy Letts is one of the people involved with a film this bad. He has done so much good work.
Sara, great review! Okay, well, in the book from 2018, Anna lives in this very old NY townhouse that’s like 4 floors high and each floor is about maybe 15 feet by 30 feet (you know, there is about a million of these old brownstones) but then at the end there is a chase scene on the roof that is written like they are on a football field or something. I notice in this film review Anna now has a huge house, so I guess someone tried to fix that huge plot hole at least. And I just gotta say that the Hitchcock film, “Rear Window”, is based on a novella by Cornell Woolrich from the 1940s which is excellent and very tight and if filmed to source, there is maybe 1/2 hour of story anyway. So even though I’ll watch this remake of a re-imagining anyway, eventually: EVERYONE please read the material that started this entire genre, Woolrich’s great/dark/noirish short work.