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Woman in the Window, The (2021)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Well That Was Worth The Wait. . ."
1 stars

With the exception of “The New Mutants,” I cannot recall another recent film that has had such a tangled and tormented path to its release than “The Woman in the Window,” the adaptation of the best-selling thriller by A.J. Finn. Shot in 2018, it was originally meant to be released in 2019 but suffered a delay of nearly three years brought on by unsuccessful test screenings that resulted in reshoots, Disney’s purchase of Fox, who had produced it, the COVID pandemic and other hiccups. With a history like that, one might rightfully expect the final product that is now premiering on Netflix to be some unholy mess. As it turns out, the only real mystery surrounding the film is how much of a nothing it is—how could something this flat and predictable possibly inspire so much behind-the-scenes agita?

The focus of the film is Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams), a child psychologist who suffers from a crippling form of agoraphobia that leaves her unable to leave her enormous New York City home and whose only contact with her recently separated husband (Anthony Mackie) and moppet daughter is via daily phone calls. Since her practice appears to be defunct at the moment, she spends all of her time drinking, watching old movies, and arguing with her own therapist (Tracey Letts, who also penned the screenplay). Her curiosity is piqued with the arrival of the Russells, a family who has just moved in across the street. Although the husband, Alistair (Gary Oldman) seems to be an overlay controlling jerk, Anna hits it off with both the odd-but-friendly teenage son Ethan (Fred Hechinger) and Jane (Julianne Moore), who comes over one night for an evening of wine and gossip.

Intrigued by Jane and Ethan and worried about the short-tempered Alistair, Anna begins looking in on them from her window and one night, she sees Jane being stabbed to death and calls the police, convinced that Alistair has murdered her. When the cops finally arrive, they have Alistair in tow, who insists that his wife is very much alive. However, the Jane he presents is an entirely different woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) than the one that Anna met but both Alistair and Ethan insist that she is the real Jane. Anna insists otherwise but the cops doubt her and then stumble on some information that makes her claims seem even more dubious. At the point, I will speak no more of the plot except to mention that also milling about is David (Wyatt Russell), an oddball tenant of Anna’s who lives in the basement, has some secrets of his own and has a weird tendency to suddenly pop up out of nowhere.

Now to be fair, “The Woman in the Window” is hardly the first project to come along with a premise clearly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic “Rear Window”—hell, I even remember it serving as the inspiration for an episode of “Kate & Allie” back in the day—but I cannot rightly remember a film that has done so little with the concept. I confess that I have not read the book but I suspect that it is one of those things like “The Girl on the Train,” one book that it was compared to a lot when it came out, that contains an increasingly preposterous storyline but is told in such a slick and relentlessly headlong manner that the reader does not realize how dopey and nonsensical it all is until they have turned the last page and begin mulling everything over.

The problem with translating a book like that to film is that you have to find the cinematic equivalent to the narrative style to keep the whole thing from collapsing into sheer ridiculousness. There are any number of filmmakers I can think of who could have provided just that kind of style to make “The Woman in the Window” work—I can see Brian De Palma knocking it out of the park without breaking a sweat and even a director as ultimately cloddish as Alexandre Aja might have been able to pull it off using his particular skill set. Over the years, Joe Wright has proven himself to be a more-than-capable filmmaker with such projects as his adaptations of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement” and “Anna Karenina” while he demonstrated some heretofore unsuspected action chops in his sleeper hit “Hanna.” However, he has never previously demonstrated any hints of a facility for generating suspenseful thrills and “The Woman in the Window” finds him to be a remarkably unsuitable choice for the material. Instead of embracing the lurid silliness of the material he is working with, Wright decides to take it way too seriously, which only makes the whole thing seem even sillier in retrospect. He telegraphs the big scares and surprise twists so far in advance that you may find yourself assuming that he is playing a game of expectations and has even bigger surprises in store. That is not the case—aside from one quick and startling burst of violence, the film just plods along from one incident to the next like a book report come barely to life without ever catching fire in a compelling manner.

And yet, thanks no doubt to its status as a best-selling book, a screenplay that might have otherwise struggled to pass muster as a Lifetime production has inexplicably managed to attract a top-flight cast of actors. It seems, however, that none of them bothered to actually read the script until after signing their deals and, after realizing that they could not get out of their contracts, could barely disguise their boredom with the material when they got in front of the cameras. In the case of some of the actors, especially Adams and Oldman, their solution is to chew the scenery to an almost ridiculous degree. In the case of others, especially Leigh, the tendency is to underplay to such a degree that you sometimes forget that they are in the film, even when they are right there on the screen. On the bright side, the performances are so thoroughly awkward and unconvincing across the board that the question of whodunnit goes from being a mystery to a painfully foregone conclusion pretty early on, allowing you to focus on everything else that is wrong.

“The Woman in the Window” is one of those baffling films that seems to have everything going for it on both sides of the camera but cannot figure out how to make any of it work. The dramatics are silly, the mystery is inane and the finale is such a mess that the only thing that will prevent viewers from getting too enraged over it is that they will have checked out long before then. As I said earlier, I have not read the original book and therefore have no idea if the massive flaws in the story came directly from the source or if everything started getting messed up once the decision was made to make it into a film. One thing is for sure—having seen “The Woman in the Window,” I have absolutely no interest at all in going back to the book to get an answer to that question.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32307&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/14/21 10:42:38
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USA
  14-May-2021

UK
  N/A

Australia
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Directed by
  Joe Wright

Written by
  Tracy Letts

Cast
  Amy Adams
  Julianne Moore
  Gary Oldman
  Wyatt Russell
  Anthony Mackie
  Brian Tyree Henry



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