Who Is The Real Woman In The Window?
Death to the studio; long live the studio. The final movie released under the Fox 2000 label before Disney swallowed it whole, Joe Wright’s The Woman in the Window completes its tortuous journey to the screen with an unceremonious drop this weekend on Netflix. Its participants deserve better; in its final form, I’m not sure the movie itself does. Overwrought and over-stuffed, The Woman in the Window will thrill you for the briefest of moments before back-tracking, zig-zagging, and side-stepping - anything to avoid following through on its most tantalizing moments.
It’s difficult to know what Wright’s initial version looked like. Initially set for an October 2019 release, Disney opted for rewrites and reshoots after poor test screenings, with producers bringing on Tony Gilroy to assist. Reports suggest that test audiences were confused - but unlike a film such as Rear Window (whose reputation this film plays on, in both title and plot), that’s sort of the point of Wright’s new film. We’re meant not just to doubt the violent events as seen by Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams), but to question Fox’s very sanity itself. It’s a wobbly foundation for Wright’s otherwise intriguing analysis of the unreliability of the human senses - particularly sight, the perfect study for this visual medium - but it means the audience’s confusion is baked into The Woman in the Window. Any efforts to replace it with clarity just muddle a film that very well may have once had more cohesion.
And along with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and the rest of his crew, Wright’s directorial decisions suggest a version of Woman that leans into the disorientation. Distortions abound in the first 30 minutes: light-touch dolly zooms, a shifting soundscape, and snapshot, slap-in-the-face flashbacks that cloud the present reality more than they clarify it. We begin to doubt not just whether Anna’s visions are real, but whether what she hears is invented, and whether, in fact, we really heard it ourselves. Yet Woman undermines this atmospheric filmmaking with regularly spaced “here’s what’s going on right now” scenes - several of which I’d wager were added after the test screenings.
Where Wright and screenwriter Tracy Letts’ original vision is lacking is in the needlessly excessive justification for Fox’s unreliability. The screenplay is adapted from a 2018 novel, and Fox’s backstory is pulled from that literary work, but the film version both over- and under-emphasizes it, seemingly in an attempt to arrive at an inevitable but nonetheless surprising twist ending. Supplemented by ineffective emotional manipulation, the ploy falls flat.
This odd film-that-couldn't is bursting at the seams with quality actors. Adams is a black hole force as Fox, and though her performance veers into maudlin territory quite a bit, that's as much a necessity of the script as it is a result of her choices. Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Tyree Henry all pop in for small roles, but it's the up-and-coming Wyatt Russell who gets to sink his teeth deepest into a supporting role as Fox's tenant. Alternating between charm and menace, Russell wields his frame to confuse and intimidate us, leaving us unclear on his ultimate self until the film's final sequence.
It's a film that could have brought Adams her long-awaited first Oscar and Russell his next step on the ladder to Hollywood glory. Instead, it's a forgettable Netflix release.