The Woman in the Window has some baggage. Yes, the character Anna Fox, played by Amy Adams, has many things to work through with her therapist, but the film has also taken a troubling road to the screen. While it was initially scheduled for release in October 2019, the movie was pushed further back to a May 2020 release after poor test screenings. Then, a global pandemic hit, and 20th Century Studios sold the rights to the film to Netflix, where films often arrive at the end of the line for a quick burial. The Woman in the Window is also produced by Scott Rudin, who is finally starting to face the consequences of years of aggression toward staffers and childish tantrums. Topping off the film’s tumultuous journey are scathing reviews from critics who haven’t shown the film much love.
Well, The Woman in the Window is about as smooth as the potholed-filled road leading to its release. The music feels out of place with the hollowness of Anna Fox’s life. She’s an agoraphobic child psychologist who suspects her neighbor killed his wife, and her multi-storeyed empty home is needlessly filled with an overwrought score by Danny Elfman. Most importantly, the stakes aren’t exactly high for Anna, who we meet as her neighbors move in, instead of getting a sense of her routine as someone confined within the walls of her home.
The stellar supporting cast, including Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, and Brian Tyree Henry, are effective in their roles. However, Wright’s direction is dulled by trying to play with the audience’s perception of reality. It has minimal effect. Wright is known for his theatricality and his excellent one-takes, but in The Woman in the Window, his sharp editing from Anna Karenina doesn’t land as well. He misses an opportunity for restraint and building tension, forgetting to have fun with this Rear Window concept. Amy Adams carries the film without any trouble, but the pieces don’t exactly fit comfortably together.
Anna Fox is a child psychologist who lives alone in a Manhattan Brownstone. She’s separated from her husband, Edward (Anthony Mackie), and lives away from her daughter Olivia (Mariah Bozeman). She frequently talks with her psychiatrist Dr. Landy (Tracy Letts), who prescribes medication to help her depression and, hopefully, her agoraphobia. Of course, Anna latches on to the most exciting thing imaginable, which is a new neighbor moving across the street. She meets Ethan (Fred Hechinger), the 15-year-old son of Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman) and Jane Russell (Julianne Moore). Ethan gives off the creepiest of vibes, but friendship seems to be on Anna’s mind, and they strike up a conversation. Jane then comes around one night and shares a card game with Anna.
Anna is terrified when she witnesses Jane getting stabbed across the street. Anna can’t see the assailant, fails to photograph the incident, and consequently can’t get anybody to believe her story. There’s no telling if her truth would have more potency if she had showered recently, but the cops judge her anyway. Among the suspects is her tenant, who lives in the basement, David (Wyatt Russell), who has the shifty air of someone who probably shouldn’t be living in your basement. As she tries to understand what she saw in the window, Anna’s world begins to collapse further, as if that were at all possible.
Wright tries to add texture to the film by incorporating heavy editing to add a simmer of tension. However, he might’ve instead focused on the silences rather than filling in the void. After all, Anna lives in isolation in an apartment that could house a dozen families, so each creak on the floorboards felt more critical than a violin interlude. Amy Adams is fascinating in the role, but a late scene where Anna records herself on her iPhone is shown on screen in two different formats: the iPhone version and the camera sitting in front of Joe Wright. It’s an unnecessary split screen that diminishes Anna’s descent into madness and grief.
Letts’ script also includes too many holes and stilted dialogue that make the performances feel less natural. The cops fail to trust Anna’s perception of reality, even though she shows them a literal, recent photograph taken from inside her home sent to her email. Call it a duty of care, but perhaps investigating the email source could indicate where the image came from. But alas, this is a crazy woman, and she is suffering incredibly severe grief and hasn’t left her home for a long time.
Where is the compassion?