Two very different movies lurk within The Woman in the Window, and neither is very promising: One is an outright pillaging of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, with the filmmakers even flashing a snippet of that classic to make their vandalism more egregious. The other is a disjointed, histrionic thriller that plays a shell game with its narrative to distract you from how ferociously goofy it is. Despite an all-world cast and a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Woman is a double-layered soufflé that spends 100 minutes caving in on itself.
The story centers on Anna (Amy Adams), a boozy, troubled psychologist. Hobbled by agoraphobia, Anna hunkers in her Manhattan brownstone and snoops on the neighbors. She occasionally interacts with her newly-distant husband (Anthony Mackie), young daughter (Mariah Bozeman), and nonplussed therapist (Tracy Letts).
Anna’s world gets rocked with the arrival of a new family across the street. Jane (Julianne Moore) is an outgoing soul whose easy smile seems to hide some deeply-rooted pain. Ethan, Jane’s sweet, bashful son (Fred Hechinger), seems to be the victim of abuse. Anna quickly concludes that Alistair (Gary Oldman), the family’s volatile, tightly-wound patriarch, is the likely culprit. As she gets drawn into their lives, Anna learns that there is a lot more to each person than what she can spy with her little eye.
I won’t reveal more, because I honestly don’t know how. The story (based on a novel by A.J. Finn) doesn’t so much twist and turn as it thrashes and clunks, like a shoe caught in a dryer. Perhaps the best move would’ve been to continue shoplifting Rear Window‘s plot and general aesthetic, just like how Vanilla Ice “borrowed” that bass lick from Bowie and Queen. Unfortunately, the filmmakers couldn’t leave it alone. They pile old and new, borrowed and blue, until the whole thing feels like a marriage between confusing story elements you can’t figure out and goofy plot twists you could care less about.
The scuttlebutt goes that The Woman in the Window was shot a couple years ago, and the test screenings went over like a lead balloon. This happens all the time in Hollywood, and the standard response is–I’ll borrow a house-flipping metaphor–to address a busted foundation by repainting the shutters. Indeed, Woman got a few rewrites, and few reshoots, and….voila! It still sucks.
And it feels disjointed. Take a look at Anna’s tenant, a weirdo singer-songwriter, played by Wyatt Russell. (They never play any of his music, but I’m pretty sure the ghost of John Belushi needs to come and smash his guitar against the wall.) This guy never gets any kind of footing in the story. Is he supposed to be a red-dirt menace? An ally? A love interest?! Like so many things here, this seems like something that got chucked with an earlier draft of the script and never resolved.
Let’s talk about that script for a moment. Tracy Letts, who won the Pulitzer for August: Osage County, was brought in to refine Finn’s novel for the big screen. Unfortunately, for all his talents, Letts can’t shake the film from its origins: Much of the dialogue still feels written, especially toward the end of the movie.
The Oscar-level actors do what they can with this material. There’s a lot of screaming and panting and slurping red wine and gasping through the curtains. Oldman, in particular, seems to spend much of his time with a clenched jaw and his hands on his hips. Adams’ performance is an embodiment of the film itself: She has moments of nuance that dissolve into unhinged theatricality. I half-expected Jon Lovitz to pop into the movie with a flourish of his hand. “Acting!!”
The Woman in the Window somehow manages to look lazy at trying too hard. Its first half effectively riffs on a masterpiece that should never be touched by any filmmaker. After that, the script climbs into a Thelma and Louise convertible and heads right off a cliff. Each segment is truly a spectacle to behold. I could totally see how someone might buy into all this and enjoy the film as the trashy mystery novel it really is. Maybe. For everybody else, don’t say I didn’t warn ya.
100 min. R. Netflix.