The Woman in the Window [Video Review]
Dial V for Voyeur: Wright Waxes Hitchcockian in Enjoyable Neo Noir
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” said Oscar Wilde, “that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” An fitting example is the latest film from Joe Wright, the much delayed, assumedly highly compromised The Woman in the Window, a Hitchcockian thriller based on the 2018 novel by A.J. Finn.
Initially scheduled for a theatrical release at the end of 2019 and then delayed for purported changes initiated by test screening responses before it was swept up in the wave of pandemic related changes of distribution, this throwback to genre flavored adult storytelling still bears the twinkle of its origins despite its strenuous ordeals. Somewhere out there, perhaps a superb director’s cut exists of this narrative which stumbles significantly in its patronizing third act, but a formidable cast and fantastic crew make up for these letdowns.
Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams) is a child psychologist separated from her husband (Anthony Mackie) and their young daughter. Suffering from agoraphobia, her doctor (Tracy Letts) has recently switched her medication, but her penchant for wine compromises the success of her therapy. Intensely curious about the outside world she has retreated from, Anna already knows all about her new neighbors, the Russell’s. Hailing from Boston, the 15-year-old Ethan (Fred Hechinger) shows up unexpectedly to deliver a gift sent by his mother. The two lonely and troubled souls share an immediate bond. A day later, on Halloween, Anna’s home is vandalized by neighborhood children apparently upset by her refusal to hand out treats, and the incident forces the intervention of Jane Russell (Julianne Moore). The two women bond over a night of alcohol infused merrymaking. But then Anna sees something terrible happen to Jane from her window. When detectives (Brian Tyree Henry, Jeanine Serralles) arrive to check her claim, it appears she must have been seeing things. Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman) brings over his wife Jane (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is clearly not the woman Anna believes she met. As the week draws on, evidence suggests Anna was imagining things. Or was she?
Wright takes Hitchcock’s penchant for doubling to meta levels, paying homage to both Rear Window and Vertigo with its narrative, plus the twin blonde Jane Russell’s (conjuring a strange juxtaposition of the famed brunette Hollywood star and her most famous role opposite Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes). Clips of Hitch’s work (including Spellbound) are joined by Preminger’s Laura, and some Lauren Bacall.
There’s also the specter of Fritz Lang’s 1944 classic The Woman in the Window, where Lang regulars Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson are subjected to the now-hoary ‘it’s just a dream’ finale. Anna’s mental predicament and cinematic penchant recalls Jennifer Connolly pouring over stacks of VHS in The House of Sand and Fog, but the agoraphobic tendencies (including the setting of the climax) directly ape the superior psychologizing of this condition from the Sigourney Weaver performance in 1995’s Copycat (not to mention, there’s also a bit of Stanwyck’s invalid in Sorry, Wrong Number, worth mentioning).
But what is this The Woman in the Window without all its fun comparisons and points of reference? Adam is a frustrating, dowdy mess as Dr. Anna Fox, and Letts’ screenplay (who appears as her psychiatrist) is strongest in the early set-up, where we can embrace the careful choice of language in the dialogue. Anna describes herself differently to various characters, which ends up feeling more interesting than the grand revelation of the traumatic incident which sparked her current situation (hint – it’s not surprising, and, in fact is accidentally more interesting as commentary on acceptable presentations of wives who commit a certain heteronormative infraction).
Julianne Moore is fantastically unnerving in her sole sequence with the rigid and guarded Adams, and one wishes the rest of the notable cast had more to do. Jennifer Jason Leigh is an icy Hitchcockian blonde prototype while Oldman (reuniting with Wright after his The Darkest Hour Oscar win) should have seemed more menacing, like Raymond Burr in Rear Window. Anthony Mackie and Brian Tyree Henry are merely sympathetic conduits for Anna, while her immediate bonding with Fred Hechinger’s Ethan is cause for alarm. As Anna’s basement tenant, Wyatt Russell sometimes seems unconvincing as a man ‘prone to violence.’
DP Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie, 2001) clearly had a lot of fun with the framing while Danny Elfman’s score feels surprisingly demure. Though it underwent an arduous journey to its release and is arguably a cobbling together of derivative elements, The Woman in the Window succeeds as a fun throwback to the grand days of noir.