Netflix's 'The Woman in the Window' Is Enjoyable Schlock
Amy Adams stars in this goofy, Hitchcockian thriller.
There was a point in time in its long journey to release when The Woman in the Window was set for an Oscar campaign and a splashy theatrical release. Now on Netflix, this occasionally very goofy but generally pretty fun little thriller, based on the novel by A. J. Finn, aka controversial writer Dan Mallory, is right at home on the streaming service. It's perfect for idle Friday night viewing. You'll remain entertained, you may even hoot and holler at some of the more ridiculous twists, and you'll marvel at some of Amy Adams' acting choices. It's the ideal couch experience.
Shooting on The Woman in the Window, directed by purveyor of fine period pieces Joe Wright and adapted by playwright and actor Tracy Letts, was completed back in 2018, the same year the novel, trying to replicate the success of bestsellers like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, was published. Since then, Mallory has been exposed as an alleged fraud; Disney bought Fox, the studio behind the project; and the shuttering of movie theaters during the global pandemic led to the decision to sell the film to Netflix.
Unintentionally, The Woman in the Window benefits from its delayed release, which comes at the end of a year of audiences being stuck at home. It's a riff on Rear Window in which Amy Adams plays Anna Fox, an agoraphobic child psychologist who binges classic films in her giant apartment and keeps tabs on all of her neighbors, which means her daily routine resembles what quarantine looked like for a lot of people. The plot begins when a white yuppie family, the Russells, moves in across the street and their teenaged son Ethan (Fred Hechinger) befriends Anna after bringing her a neighborly gift and ingratiating himself to her cat. (By the way, this little feline actor is a star.)
Our heroine's suspicions about her new neighbors grow when she's visited on Halloween night by Ethan's mother, Jane (Julianne Moore), who comes to Anna's aid after some kids pelt her door with eggs. Jane is talkative but evasive, and alludes to a fraught relationship with her husband, Alistair (Gary Oldman). Shortly thereafter, Anna watches from her window as Jane is murdered. But when she calls the authorities, she is told that the woman she thinks is Jane is actually not in fact Jane. Jane is an entirely different woman played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is severely underutilized. Is Anna hallucinating on a cocktail of psychiatric meds and red wine? Or is she being gaslit by those around her? As you may expect, the answer is some combination of both as she attempts to prove that there is something nefarious orbiting her.
Adams absolutely never phones it in, but Anna is an archetype that's all too familiar and Adams often reduces her to quivering panic. (It's nowhere as near as good as her work in Sharp Objects, but also A. J. Finn is no Gillian Flynn.) Adams takes up most of the screen time, while other high profile actors drop in for cameos in the narrative Anna is crafting. Julianne Moore brings a touch of her 30 Rock accent to the unpredictable Jane, while Oldman mostly just yells imperiously.
Wright always seemed like an odd choice for this project, given that he's mostly known for lush, expansive historical dramas like Atonement and Pride and Prejudice. He attempts to treat Anna's dilapidated brownstone with the same reverence he would a country mansion, burrowing his camera into its nooks and crannies, while Danny Elfman's score assures you that mystery is afoot. Wright also occasionally indulges in hypnotic flights of fancy that break up the monotony of the setting, but the material is just too predictably hokey for the stylistic decisions to make much of an impact.
The Woman in the Window doesn't have any real points to make about mental illness or trauma, it just uses the tropes of those very real subjects for its murder mystery plot. And, yes, there is definitely a crassness to that, especially when you realize its attempt to manipulate its audience (and its characters, for that matter). After an extremely silly climax, everything wraps up easily and nicely, and you can't help but realize just how cheap these thrills were. But sometimes that's just what the doctor ordered, especially after you've spent a year relying on being a nosy neighbor for excitement.