'The Woman in the Window' Offers a Muddled Yet Entertaining View

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Average: 5 (2 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.0/5.0
Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – People in waste management have a mantra that seems to have been awkwardly adopted by the film industry: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. In the film industry’s case, ‘reduce’ doesn’t mean to create less waste, but to reduce the amount of money spent taking a chance on original content. ‘Reuse’ takes a more literal form when studios decide to create films on already worn-out premises with overused approaches. ‘Recycle’ is one we’ve all grown more and more familiar with as studios remake some of our favorite films, and barring their complete success, later try to reboot the same film and hope that this time it sticks. The Woman in the Window is the perfect example of this trend by utilizing every part in some form, but while the outcome may be trashy, it never becomes a pure waste.

The long lineage of this film based on a novel that is heavily influenced by a specific film and genre, which has already had multiple films based on the premise, feels exhausting when you trace it back. Luckily, you won’t have to spend too much time sleuthing because The Woman in the Window wears its influences on its sleeve. Much like that one guy who won’t stop talking about his favorite mainstream band to the point where it becomes part of his identity, this film’s greatest crime is relying on the greater elements of its predecessors to make itself seem more interesting than it actually is. Throw in a little Rear Window with a heavy helping of Hitchcockian auteurism, and top it off with all of the worst, exaggerated elements from the noir genre and you find yourself with an approximation of what was attempted here. Director Joe Wright may have been the wrong choice for this kind of material, but what he does with it, while wildly flawed, is inescapably and beautifully his own.

Photo credit: Netflix

Wright has been at the head of such great and devastating dramas as Atonement and Darkest Hour, but when he applies that similar brush to The Woman in the Window all you can see on the canvas are the pale outlines of the artists that came before. Homage is one of the sincerest forms of flattery, but Wright adorns this film with such big and heavy-handed references that it doesn’t end up resembling a film as much as it does a drag queen with chunky Hitchcock-inspired costume jewelry who calls herself Queer Wind-hoe. This might come off as me throwing shade, and yes that might be a small part of it, but this exact aspect made the film casually enjoyable to me. Like most drag shows, I LIVE for the camp and the drama, both of which are available in abundance.

There is a theatrical element to Wright’s approach that leads me to believe that this can be better translated to a(n) (off-)Broadway stage. The cinematography is beautiful, accentuated by the intimate camera movements and powerful performances. It becomes clear just how much impact writer Tracy Letts had just by looking at the final result and taking a look at his filmography. The greater majority of Letts’ oeuvre consists of adapting his stage plays, so it only makes sense this would have some lingering aspects subconsciously built into its framework. The only true problem emerges if you’re trying to follow the story and go into the film expecting anything other than narrative nonsense. We are given an unreliable character to follow, whose mix of substance abuse and deteriorating mental health make them the last person we should be letting steer our expositional vehicle.

Photo credit: Netflix

Still, the film ends up being full of surprises, but that is mostly due to the convoluted conclusions that keep appearing out of thin air. In another surprising twist, we are both given too much information and not enough at the same time. We dwell too much in the untrustworthy mind of our main character without being given even hints of the reality of their situation until it is too late to truly care about what is fact or fiction. This is great for creating drama but does nothing for developing an air of suspense because by that time, the twist has been revealed and the gears change so quickly that you blink and the credits have already started rolling. I will say that you get a sense of how ridiculous this film is early on, and I had fun speculating on what the outrageous twist would be, and even though I did figure it out, I wasn’t all that disappointed when it came true.

The real reason to watch The Woman in the Window is for the women in the windows, Amy Adams and Julianne Moore. Moore reminds us just how much of a powerhouse she can be even in a minor role, while Adams continues to solidify herself as one of the great actresses of our generation. As the eyes through which we experience this entire film, Adams’ character takes us through a masterclass on the emotional stages of grief, while adding a mental health twist. Her performance plays a heavy role in swaying our perspective, so much so that these series of unfortunate events are as baffling to us as they are to her, which might be entirely the point.

“The Woman in the Window” available on Netflix May 14th. Featuring Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Fred Hechinger, Gary Oldman, Brian Tyree Henry, Wyatt Russell, Anthony Mackie, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Directed by Joe Wright. Written by Tracy Letts. Rated “R”

Jon Espino, film and video game critic, HollywoodChicago.com

Film & Video Game Critic

© 2021 Jon Espino, HollywoodChicago.com

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