The Woman in the Window
Joe Wright's star-studded troubled film is a sloppy mess
Many films face an uphill and seemingly impossible climb to get produced and released. The most recent troubled film is The Woman in the Window (2021), adapted from the best-selling book of the same name, and originally slated for release in 2019. The original studio Fox 2000, however, was shuttered by new parent company Disney. The film was to be reshuffled so that it would be the last release of the label. However, test screenings left many viewers confused on the narrative, forcing desperate producers to schedule reshoots and delay the film for a year. Finally the COVID-19 pandemic struck, shuttering theaters. Disney, in line with its carefree treatment of Fox 2000s films (where many have been released with no marketing support, or dumped altogether), decided to cut its losses and sell the film to Netflix for distribution. Finally, The Woman in the Window has been released.
The Woman in the Window follows the agoraphobic protagonist Carol (Amy Adams), a child psychologist who is deeply depressed and stimulates herself with both medication and alcohol (despite many telling her not to mix the two). She witnesses a new family move in across the street, whom she takes a curiosity to. In her voyeurism (in the line of people-watching of Foucault not the sexualized term it has become) she sees a crime carried out. However, her unreliability, and unexpected circumstances force her to question her own sanity.
The film is directed by Joe Wright, who has shown a more than capable hand at directing psychological films. Atonement (2007) looked at the cost of pent-up guilt, Hanna (2011) while more geared as an action film, was really a coming-of-age story, and Darkest Hour (2017) was an exploration into the tribulations of a pressured leader. Only Pan (2015), Wright’s foray into the blockbuster arena has been a disappointment; aside from it, he’s been a consistent and solid filmmaker. This is largely thanks to his enhancement of the story through some neat and original visual tricks. Such as his impressive single take in Atonement of the crowded Dunkirk beach, or the zoom out from a supposed battlefield, that reveals it all taking place on a dead soldier’s cheek in Darkest Hour. Wright has been able to achieve a balance of inserting enough flair to differentiate his films from other directors, but he’s also been humble enough to not get in the way of the narrative. This is why I was really surprised by The Woman in the Window, which seems to betray all his past instincts.
The Woman in the Window is a mess. Reportedly Tracy Letts, who adapted the book into the screenplay, was greatly disappointed with rewrites and reshoots that producers did on their own, saying “it sucked.” This conflict shows, as the film feels like a clash of tones with no clear heading or leadership. Wright’s original vision, might have been to create a disorienting picture, heavily nodding to Rear Window (1954), but the end result seems to completely strip this film of a clear identity, so that it feels like a sloppy and shameless imitation of the Hitchcock film. The Woman in the Window is constantly intercutting random images and transitions in order to seem more mysterious and confusing, and yet these appear too blatantly to be distracting bells and whistles, trying to cover up the incongruous and inconsistent script. Supporting characters are seemingly established in the beginning of the plot, but then are completely forgotten by the end. In fact, the entire cast of characters is so poorly written, even our protagonist Carol seems like a boring cardboard cutout.
This is especially frustrating regarding the all-star cast that Wright has assembled. Adams is left completely to her own devices, and despite the American actress giving it her all (she practically carries the entire film on her own), she can’t make up for the crumbling production by herself. Sidelined are actors such as Oldman, Julianne Moore, Anthony Mackie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Wyatt Russell, and Brian Tyree Henry, who barely have enough screen time to even embody a genre cliché, let alone an actual character.
The editing is completely horrendous, many sequences feel as if they’re missing an entire scene or piece of dialogue, the geography of the house is so dully presented, even the inventive shots from Wright are buried in nonsensical transitions, almost as if they didn’t know where to place certain takes, and they accidentally spilled them onto a comprehensive cut. The intention of some of these choices might have been to disorient viewers, and place them in Carol’s shoes, but it fails at this completely; not pulling you in with intrigue, but rather pushing you away with sloppiness. A film can be both disorienting and comprehensive in an apartment setting with an unreliable narrator, just look at Oscar darling The Father (2020).
In the end, The Woman in the Window is a mess of a film. Studio interference seems to have corrupted the film rather than bring comprehension. Wright might have had a pensive and almost surrealist product originally, but the tonal shifts in the film indicate towards a desperation from producers to make a more mainstream thriller. As such the possible commentary on mental health: being stuck in your apartment with just your thoughts, is lost on viewers who after a pandemic might have been very receptive to such work.