I’m exhausted. The joyless drudgery of life & work in this era of never-ending health pandemics and hurricanes has completely drained me. I’m most aware of this general, bottomless exhaustion when I’m trying to indulge in the few simple pleasures that used to be fun, frivolous hobbies – most notably discussing movies with strangers on the internet. I used to have an endless enthusiasm for sharing & combating opinions on hot-topic movie releases online, but lately the most effort I can muster is recording my movie takes on this self-published blog, where I know they’ll be politely ignored. A large part of the disconnect I’m feeling between the movies I’ve been watching and the Online Discourse surrounding them has to do with social media’s addiction to red-hot, extremist, Galaxy Brain takes. The last couple years of COVID-era labor & tedium have left me numb to most pop culture stimuli, so it’s getting increasingly difficult to pretend that every single release needs to be immediately sorted into either the Best Movie Ever or the Total Garbage categories. Most movies are unremarkable, especially when viewed outside the sensory-immersion ritual of experiencing them at a proper cinema. All I’m really looking for here is a pleasant way to pass the time between shifts at the office.
To that end, I’ll confess that I cannot match the enthusiasm of either the overwhelming consensus that The Woman in the Window is an embarrassing failure or the minority reclamation of it as an underappreciated trash gem. Joe Wright’s adaptation of the post-Gillian Flynn paperback thriller has had its own exhausting travels from concept to screen, initially planned as a theatrical release through 20th Century Fox but instead landing a COVID-flavored streaming deal with Netflix. That twisty distribution path has been widely perceived as a fall from grace, saddling The Woman in the Window with the perception of being a major studio misfire worthy of internet-wide jeers & mockery. I wish I could join the chorus of trash-gobbling genre nerds who’ve pushed back on that pre-loaded consensus opinion, praising the film as delightfully preposterous pop art with a fun, distinct sense of style. I just can’t help but find both positions to be an exaggeration of what The Woman in the Window actually is. It’s low-key, wine-buzz fun as a Lifetime thriller version of Rear Window, but not enough of a hoot to make the effort of defending its honor worthwhile. Forcing it into either a Best or Worst category feels like a desperate attempt to conjure Discourse out of thin air – a distinctly modern, thoroughly embarrassing form of alchemy.
There are many classic thrillers directly cited onscreen throughout The Woman in the Window—Gaslight, Laura, Dark Passage, etc.—but Rear Window is its clearest, most dominant source of inspiration. Amy Adams stars as a nosy, isolated neighbor who can’t tell if she’s witnessed a murder through the next-door family’s window or if mixing obnoxious amounts of red wine with her new behavioral meds is causing her to hallucinate. Not to spoil too much in a review of a movie that was hotly debated and then promptly forgotten months ago, but the answer is both. Wright submerges the audience in his spaced-out, reclusive heroine’s wine-tinted POV to the point where the physical existence of all events, suspects, and “helpful” side characters are highly questionable. Each performance outside of Adams’s woman-on-the-verge protagonist borders on the comic absurdism of a dream sequence or an improv sketch. Adams often wakes up from her heavily medicated blackouts visually immersed in the Turner Classic Movies that loop on her TV screen. There is no point in attempting to solve the mysteries of either the murder at hand or the circumstances of its drunken witness’s past. All you can do until the story sobers up is occasionally cackle at Wright’s overreaching attempts at visual style, while taking note of all the better-realized mystery thrillers he cites onscreen as reference.
If there’s anything especially embarrassing about The Woman in the Window‘s mediocre, straight-to-streaming pleasures, it’s in the amount of big-name talent needed to pull it off. Beyond wasting the typically powerful screen presence of actors like Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore, and Brian Tyree Henry on roles with no significant impact, this big-budget Lifetime howler was also penned by Tracy Letts and scored by Danny Elfman – two legends in their respective crafts. The prestige of those contributions doesn’t really change the fact that the movie is reasonably cromulent as a passive entertainment. I’m not even sure Wright was aiming his ambitions much higher than that anyway. The most pivotal scene in the entire film features Adams and Moore as two moms getting wine drunk on Halloween night, which I feel like is a perfect illustration of the film’s target audience. Watch it when you want something lightly suspenseful and highly silly that won’t tax too much of your brain power before your job or your kids or the general malaise of living on this hell-planet zaps the rest of it out of you. It’s not worth much as a topic of online conversation, but it is a mildly entertaining way to spend 100 minutes.