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‘The Woman in the Window’ should have kept the curtains closed

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Movies don’t always work. There are a million potential reasons why, but that’s the simple truth: sometimes, films fail.

On the surface, something like “The Woman in the Window,” newly streaming on Netflix, looks like a candidate for solid success. It’s got talent behind the camera in director Joe Wright and a wildly overqualified cast led by Amy Adams. It’s based on a best-selling book adapted by the excellent Tracy Letts (who also makes an uncredited appearance in the film).

But look closer and it all starts to crumble.

This was a film that was supposed to come out nearly two years ago – in October of 2019 – before terrible test screenings lead to re-edits, pushing the release to May of 2020 (and we all know how that worked out). After that further delay, the studio sold the rights to Netflix and here we are.

After watching it, well … I’m just curious as to how bad it was BEFORE the fixes.

This kind of “woman in distress” thriller has seen a bit of a renaissance in recent years, courtesy of authors like Gillian Flynn. But this one – penned pseudonymously by noted fabulist Daniel Mallory – has none of the propulsive power of that novel. And as for the film adaptations? Let’s just say the window should have stayed closed.

Adams stars as Dr. Anna Fox, a child psychologist living alone in a Manhattan brownstone. She is separated from her husband Edward (Anthony Mackie, TV’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”), who lives elsewhere with their daughter, though they speak daily. Anna is an agoraphobic – she is psychologically unable to leave her home, though she appears to be making some slight progress through therapy. She takes a lot of medications and drinks too much – particularly because of the aforementioned medications – spending much of her time in her dimly-lit living space watching classic movies or peering out the windows at her neighbors.

When a new family moves in across the street, Anna is intrigued. Teenaged Ethan Russell (Fred Hechinger, “News of the World”) pays her a visit with a gift from his mom – a scented candle. He seems like a nice, albeit somewhat troubled boy; he drops some hints that his father Alistair (Gary Oldman, “Mank”) might be a not-so-nice guy. Ethan’s mother Jane (Julianne Moore, “The Glorias”) also pays a visit, one that leads to a pleasant night of laughter and wine.

Not long afterward, Anna – who has been peering through the Russells’ windows from across the street – sees Jane being attacked and killed. She calls the police, but when Detectives Little (Brian Tyree Henry, “The Outside Story”) and Norelli (Jeanine Serralles, TV’s “Utopia”) arrive, they have the Russell family in tow – Alistair, Ethan … and Jane (Jennifer Jason Leigh, “Possessor”), the woman who everyone claims is ACTUALLY Jane Russell. No one – not even Anna’s basement tenant David (Wyatt Russell, TV’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”) – can corroborate what Anna saw (or thought she saw).

And when we learn the truth behind Anna’s separation from her husband, it becomes clear that the structure of her reality is fragile and easily cracked; she’s left to struggle with her tenuous connection to the world around her. And yet … there’s still more to this story.

Though I’m not sure if you’ll ultimately care.

“The Woman in the Window” is a skewed-perspective thriller whose thrills ultimately prove underwhelming. The narrative telegraphs many of its twists; it’s hard to find much of anything surprising about this story as it plays out. And when you build on a foundation of surprises that aren’t really all that surprising, well … it’s just not going to work.

There’s an odd sedentary feeling to the film, and not just because of the isolation of its protagonist. We’ve seen plenty of movies where this sort of structural enclosure works (and it seems as though Joe Wright has seen them too, because he is not subtle about making sure his influences are apparent – hell, we actually see a Jimmy Stewart moment from “Rear Window,” in case you were wondering just how on the nose this movie gets), but here, it just feels static. Every effort to engage in a kinetic sense feels forced and ineffective.

There are a lot of deliberate stylistic choices as well that come off as unnecessary. Wright has a good eye – we’ve seen it in some of his prior work – but too many of his aesthetic flourishes read as him trying too hard. I get it – the story certainly needs some help, despite the best efforts of screenwriter Letts – but this simply doesn’t work.

As for the cast, well – they’re all very talented. But none of them seem all that engaged with what’s going on here. Adams has been making an effort to take roles that allow her some more jagged edges recently, with mixed success (“Sharp Objects” – yea, “Hillbilly Elegy” – nay). She’s at her best when she’s allowed room for nuance in her performance, and there’s very little of that here. Everyone else comes off as kind of bored with the whole thing. Oldman – who Wright directed to an Oscar in “The Darkest Hour” – has never given a shallower, more surface-level performance; Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg had more complexity. Moore and especially Leigh are largely squandered, with very little to do. Hechinger seems to be going for it, but that comes with its own set of problems. The rest of the cast – Mackie, Russell, Henry – are simply there, with little sense of character or characterization.

“The Woman in the Window” is one of those unfortunate films that is far less than the sum of its parts. With this kind of pedigree, it should have been good or at the very least passable. Instead, we get a thriller with no thrills, jagged and disconnected. It’s not even a so-bad-it’s-good fun watch. It’s just bad. Makes you wonder if any of the people involved are familiar with the word “defenestration.”

[1 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 17 May 2021 16:44

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