The Woman in the Window (2021) – The Poor Man’s Fincher doing the Poor Man’s Hitchcock

Joe Wright is supposed to be a fine director if one goes according to some of my mutuals on Film Twitter. His films Pride and Prejudice and Atonement are frequently discussed on the tl, be it in regards to their painterly cinematography, their performances or just making people horny for hot people or whatever. Although he’s never been nominated for Best Director, two of his films have been nominated for Best Picture: the aforementioned Atonement and his Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour from 2017. That film earned Gary Oldman his first and many would argue (myself included) long overdue Oscar for Best Actor. One might get the impression about him that he’s been on a consistent hot streak and merely focuses on directing prestige dramas, but neither turns out to be the case. In 2011, he directed the moderately successful action thriller Hanna starring Saoirse Ronan and in 2015 he went full blockbuster with the Peter Pan origin story-prequel-hopeful franchise starter Pan, which got panned (I’ll show myself out) by mostly everyone who saw it apparently. When he followed that failure with Darkest Hour all seemed to have been forgiven. But then he decided to make The Woman in the Window and I think the lesson for Joe Wright is this: stay away from genre movies buddy.

Now I have to confess that this is in fact my first Joe Wright film and dear god I sincerely hope his other movies are at least slightly better than this because The Woman in the Window is almost shockingly poor and dull in its current state. The film is adapted from an airport bestseller by A.J. Finn (who appears to be some kind of con man?) and stars Amy Adams as a former child psychologist who suffers from agoraphobia and lives alone in New York City. She spends her time with her cat and drinking wine (if you replaced agoraphobia with misanthropy and wine with energy drinks you’d have my brother), and crucially, spying on her various neighbors. One night, she suspects she’s witnessed a violent act of murder yet everything seems to be in order according to the neighbors, the police and basically everyone but Amy Adams. Is she going crazy, or is there something more sinister afoot? DUN-DUN-DUN!!!

As many critics and people have already mentioned, the premise makes it sound like some pale imitation of Hitchcock’s brilliant 1954 classic Rear Window, and whilst it definitely owes a lot in debt to that film, I would say the movie felt more like David Fincher’s Panic Room from 2002. Some similarities exist between The Woman in the Window and Panic Room; both acknowledge and/or homage the work of Hitchcock, both are set in Manhattan in similar types of houses, the protagonists are both women and time is an essential element to the story. And that’s where the similarities end because although it’s far from being my favorite Fincher movie, Panic Room is a much smarter movie than The Woman in the Window thinks it is, which is crucial in describing it because the film thinks it’s doing something interesting and groundbreaking when in fact it’s not (Amy Adams is watching Rear Window and Spellbound at one point, DO YOU GET THE REFERENCES?). I also think Fincher probably has a much stronger firm grasp on genre filmmaking as opposed to Wright, who besides a few genuinely inspired shots and moments of decent lighting, feels completely out of his comfort zone even for someone who’s actually unfamiliar with his work. Oh and also the script for Panic Room is really good as opposed to The Woman in the Window whose screenplay (written by Tracy Letts) is shockingly poor and uninspired.

Now in all fairness, this isn’t all the fault of Wright or Letts or indeed the source material probably. The man who probably deserves a fair share of the blame is the films semi-disgraced super-producer Scott Rudin. The film was actually shot back in 2018 with a planned release date for 2019, but due to poor test screenings Rudin demanded changes be made to the film and subsequently ordered reshoots be made. Tony Gilroy, who was brought in by Disney in a similar situation on Rogue One back in 2016, was brought in to supervise rewrites during reshoots (why is Tony Gilroy the go-to-reshoots guy?). Then the 2020 release date was pushed back because of COVID-19, it also got caught up in the Disney-Fox merger who eventually decided to sell it to Netflix hence why it’s premiering now direct-to-streaming in 2021. So perhaps it’s poor quality was to be expected?

But even without the reshoots I don’t think there was much potential in this project. Partly because the story feels so derivative and unoriginal, but also because the acting is, well…not great? Amy Adams just feels wrong the whole way through, poor Julianne Moore was saddled with lines of dialogue that would never ever be said by a living, breathing human being under any circumstances, and Gary Oldman is ACTING WITH A CAPITAL A-C-T-I-N-G. This is where most of the unintentional comedy of the film comes from and those moments were definitely entertaining for my own personal sadistic pleasure. Then you have a mostly fine supporting cast of Bryan Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anthony Mackie and Wyatt Russell who get away mostly unscathed.

I really wish I could recommend this movie as an unintentionally funny comedy (and honestly had they tried to make it a comedy or at least make it be self-aware it might’ve worked better) but besides a few moments it’s mostly just dull frankly. The story isn’t interesting, the filmmaking is serviceable, the Danny Elfman score is…there??? Yeah so that is a big no on The Woman in the Window. Apparently Joe Wright already has a new film coming out later this year, a retelling of the Cyrano de Bergerac story, so I hope he can pull himself together for that one.


Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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