October 17, 2021

Abhype

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‘Woman in the Window’ Lives Down to All That Bad Buzz

Joe Wright’s “The Woman in the Window” was a “problem” movie long before it got dumped on Netflix this week.

Years ago, its release date was shuffled around, then reported re-writes and re-shoots took place before the pandemic made its fate uncertain. Despite the acclaimed director and an all-star cast, this winds up as the kind of turkey that would have lasted two weeks, tops, in theaters but might find a more appreciative, if horrifically underserved audience, on Netflix.

Amy Adams stars as Anna Fox, a child psychiatrist who is experiencing an unfortunate leg of her professional life: she’s an agoraphobic alcoholic who sees her own shrink (Tracy Letts, who is also the film’s screenwriter) and stays at home all day with her cat.

Anna isn’t just a shut in but lives vicariously through the lives of those outside her window. Her grip on reality is seemingly in freefall when she’s convinced that her neighbor (Gary Oldman) has murdered his wife (Julianne Moore). Because Anna is an unreliable protagonist, we’re unsure if we can trust any of her daily encounters, let alone her visions of bloodshed and marital duplicity.

I have no idea if the original screenplay, which was reportedly altered after the first pass left the studio unhappy, was any better than we’ve ended up with. Letts has always been a far better character actor (note his excellent work in “Ford V. Ferrari”) than a writer (his celebrated but insufferable “August: Osage County” has a following), but this is embarrassing, even for him.

The dialog is bad and there aren’t any characters for the actors to play, just tired, one-note walking plot tropes who spout reams of exposition.

Perhaps Letts (who adapted this from A.J. Finn’s 2018 novel) envisioned this as a stage play, as its mostly confined to a single location and consists of actors entering and exiting in a plainly theatrical manner. I would have preferred to see it on stage, since it doesn’t work as a film at all. The whole thing overflows with cliches, including the beyond-tired touch of a car crash flashback that frames the story.

Early on, there’s a glimpse of “Rear Window” (1954) playing on Anna’s TV, as if they needed that to tell us what this movie was clearly inspired by the most; Oldman’s villain even looks like Raymond Burr in that legendary Hitchcock thriller.

There are also obvious moments that seem intended to give Adams her “Repulsion” (1965), but Wright (whose best film is still the 2005 “Pride and Prejudice”) creates striking visual bits that distract, rather than enhance, the story.

FAST FACT: A young Amy Adams dreamed of a career as a ballerina before switching to musical theater, eventually landing her first film role in “Drop Dead Gorgeous.”

Wright shows some restraint early on but finally gives in to his unfortunate habit of laying on the style and elaborate camera set ups when the screenplay ceases to work. By the third act, Wright has the camera performing all kind of acrobatics, none of which eclipse how poor this is.

I’m a big fan of Adams, Oldman and Moore, as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Tyree Henry and Anthony Mackie, none of whom are well served by this.

Danny Elfman’s energetic score can’t inject this with excitement, not even when it finally succumbs to cliches like a darkened house, someone yelling out, “Is anyone there?” and a stalk n’ slash chase that culminates on a rooftop.

At one point, someone waives a knife in the air and it makes an unsheathing sound, the kind of touch you’d expect from a teen slasher movie. Considering the caliber of the talent involved, it is astonishing how weak this is.

Adams’ committed performance is probably the sole reason to see this. Longtime fans of Oldman, Leigh and Moore needn’t bother, as they’ve done far better work many times elsewhere. At least it’s not Wright’s worst movie, as “Pan,” “Anna Karenina” and “Hanna” are far more agitating.

By the second act, the whole thing is at a heightened pitch but still fails to engage. The is-it-real-or-not angle never made me care. It concludes with a tidy, simple solution that undermines everything that came before it. To think what Brian De Palma could have done with this!

The similarly high concept, far trashier “The Girl on the Train” (2016) is comparable as a star vehicle, though even that film is preferable to this. “The Woman in the Window” moves well and gives Adams a chance to stretch but this thriller that isn’t just a big disappointment, but, more unforgivably, its forgettable.

One and a Half Star