Amy Adams is one of the best actresses working today. The six-time Oscar nominee has done it all: she was the wide-eyed teenage girlfriend of Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, a Catholic schoolteacher in Doubt, a linguistics professor in Arrival, Lois Lane in the DC Extended Universe, and many more characters that were vibrantly or realistically brought to life because of her acting prowess. But her last two films — Hillbilly Elegy and The Woman in the Window — have me seriously wondering what she’s thinking these days when it comes to the roles she chooses.
In her latest venture on Netflix, the Joe Wright-directed feature dares to ask, what if we remade Rear Window, but it was really bad? The Woman in the Window doesn’t even attempt to hide its influences. In one of the opening shots of the inside Anna Fox’s (Adams) New York City house, we see a scene from Rear Window playing on the television. See, Anna is agoraphobic, which means she’s scared to enter situations that will cause panic or embarrassment. For Anna, that manifests itself as a fear of going outdoors. So she lives her life inside her large, empty, and oftentimes creepy house watching classic cinema and looking out the window to keep an eye on her neighbors.
Now, this movie has high aspirations. It has the obvious similarities to Rear Window and feels like an attempt at a Gone Girl-esque mystery. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come close to reaching the heights of either of those films, but it isn’t for a lack of trying. When the Russells move in across the street, their 15-year-old son Ethan (Fred Hechinger) comes over to bring a housewarming gift and the two get to know each other. Anna then meets who she thinks is Ethan’s mother Jane (Julianne Moore) and has an uncomfortable evening of playing cards with her where they both are skeptical of the other and avoid any personal questions. This all leads to Anna seeing Jane stabbed across the street by her husband Alistair (Gary Oldman).
But when Anna calls the police, no one believes her. She’s taking too many medications for her condition and they’re causing her to hallucinate. Anna claims her husband, from whom she is separated yet still talks to on the phone every night, would believe her story.
It’s quite difficult to write out the simple elevator pitch for this movie because it’s so complicated and insistent on using these supposed clever twists. It really feels like the film is using the twists because it wants twists in its movie instead of the twists being good and useful because the story itself is so good. You don’t quite feel like you’re in the hands of a storyteller who is providing narrative surprises because it’s leading towards a specific end, but rather to brag about how many twists and turns they put into their movie.
This is a stacked cast, yet the story is so all over the place that you don’t even get a chance to appreciate the amazing actors that are onscreen. Somehow Moore, Oldman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Anthony Mackie, all of whom are typically magnetic and memorable, are relegated to the side with nothing of substance to provide to the movie other than name recognition. They’re in the movie about. As much as Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Domhnall Gleeson in Mother!, but used to less of an effect. Brian Tyree Henry and Wyatt Russell, both of whom have been on a tear of star-making performances for the last few years, are the only two in here who seem like they actually have something to do, let alone buy into their roles.
And then there’s Adams. Throughout her career she’s been absolutely excellent. The movies I listed at the top just scratch the surface of the number of great performances she’s turned in over the years. And she is good in this — and Hillbilly Elegy, for that matter — but it’s just that most everything around her is so lackluster. I’m going to count this short run of films where she tries to be edgy but does so in the wrong movie as a small blip in an otherwise wonderful filmography. There’s a chance she’s on her way to being the next Meryl Streep, so hopefully when we look back at her career in 30 years, we will view this small stretch as a bump in the road instead of as the beginning of the end.
Thematically, I see what this movie was going for. I really do. It’s just the execution that didn’t work. But there is an element of gaslighting mixed with the stigmatization of mental health conditions that show that there really was something here under the surface if you were able to dig through the muck to find it. There’s a good piece on Film School Rejects about this very thing. The author of that article, Aurora Amidon, was able to glean something from the movie that I was not, and it’s worth a read. But in the end, The Woman in the Window stumbles it’s way to the finish line and isn’t as great as it could have been. Hopefully if you decide to check it out, you’ll be gripped by the plotting and won’t tune out regularly like I did.