The Woman in the Window

In The Woman in the Window, Amy Adams plays Anna, an agorophobic-asexual-alcoholic child psychologist who’s life turns into a weak copy of Rear Window.  The movie mainly exists as a device to persecute and torture Amy Adams’s character.  If you enjoyed seeing Adams essentially repeat her character from Sharp Objects, you may enjoy this movie.  As it stands, the movie doesn’t let her take any pleasure from her voyeurism, and instead repeatedly punishes Anna for her transgressions, past and present.  She’s Joan of Arc with a telephoto lens.  Not recommended.

The Woman in the Window is a thriller with no thrills.  Nope, not even cheap ones.  That is amazing considering that the movie it lazily cribs from, Rear Window, provided a ready-made template for how to revel in the tawdry aspects of human behavior.  Understandably, few movies based on Rear Window share its level of artistry.  With its high watermark in acting, directing and screenplay, Rear Window is a classic in every sense of the word.  Brian DePalma’s Body Double is probably one of the best movies in the last forty years to steal gleefully from Rear Window and stand on its own both artistically and as entertainment.

The run-of-the-mill Rear Window copycat usually does not have a director of Hitchcock or DePalma’s caliber behind it, however.  Few filmmakers ever achieve their level of artistry.  The people behind the lesser Rear Window wannabees usually have some level of self-awareness of what they are making, and include sufficient “distractions” to prevent the audience from focusing on shortcomings in the plot.  By distractions I mean good old-fashioned sex and violence.  The Girl on the Train is a prime example of this approach, a movie that contains just  enough titillating elements to keep us entertained in spite of its ludicrous plot.  Point being, a thriller can be completely ridiculous, so long as it delivers the goods (however tainted they may be).

For some reason known only to the filmmakers, The Woman in the Window (or TWITW) respectfully declines to get its hands dirty with depravity or lasciviousness, thank you very much.  Unlike the films I mentioned above, it refuses to let its heroine enjoy her foray into voyeurism one iota.  Instead, the movie punishes her almost immediately for that transgression, as well as another she made prior to the beginning of the movie.  

In TWITW, Amy Adams plays Anna Fox, a child psychologist who suffers from agoraphobia.  Like many thrillers that have come before it, she’s a psychiatrist/ologist who is seeing a psychiatrist herself.  (I so wish to see a movie where the psychiatrist who is the psychiatrist for another psychiatrist is also seeing a psychiatrist.  That definitely would be crazy fun!)  Based on how this movie played out, Anna should have saved money and skipped her sessions entirely, but I digress.

In the outset, Anna is currently “separated” from her husband Ed (Anthony Mackie) and daughter Olivia.  (I put “separated” in quotes because the movie has not-so-clever thoughts on how being separated can ambiguously mean different things.  Deep.)  Anna talks to her husband daily on her cell phone, and the two of them bicker annoyingly like annoying couples do.  Since Anna is unable to work due to her agoraphobia, she spends all day and all night in her incredibly spacious walk-up.  She has a tenant, David (Wyatt Russell), who lives in the basement.  They have a relationship that at best could be described as brother-sister.  He looks after her, taking out the garbage and chastising her for not putting out Halloween candy.  The two never are interested in each other on a physical level made no sense to me.  What purpose is there for a story to include a hunky dude living in the basement if he and the heroine never rub limbs together at least once?  (Trick question.)

Unable to work or leave the house, Anna’s daily existence consists of taking her medication, drinking while on said medication, and watching old movies on DVDs while drinking on her medication.  Given that this movie was made a few years ago, when there were several different streaming options available, Anna seems dated.  Someone with her tastes should know that TCM has a streaming service.

Soon enough, the troubled Russell family moves in across the street.  Anna tentatively spies on them using a camera with a telephoto lens, which only further dates this movie.  Anna finds out from Dave that the family left Boston under mysterious circumstances.  The family’s son Ethan soon pays her a visit, ostensibly to give her a gift from his mom.  Ethan speaks in a halting manner reminiscent of an abused puppy, and Anna is naturally drawn to him.  Even when your an agoraphobic-asexual-alcoholic, your mother instinct cannot be denied, right?

Anna is rescued from Halloween tormentors by a woman she assumes is Ethan’s mom, Jane (Julianne Moore).  I know what you’re thinking: Jane Russell?  Julianne Moore is an incredibly beautiful and talented actor, but she is nothing like Jane Russel.  Confusing things even more is TWITW’s Jane Russell is nothing like the characters the actual Jane Russell used to play.  The movie is just playing lip-service to the classics.  The character could have been named Bettie Davis, or Ava Gardner, and it would have made no difference in the plot.  Anna and Jane Russell share a few drinks and bond over their shared affection for drunkenness and gin rummy.  Jane doodles a picture that will become critical to the plot and leaves.

Jane’s husband Alistair (Gary Oldman) stops over shortly afterwards.  He’s a typical angry and controlling white guy, and tells Anna to stay away from Ethan.  When Anna tells him to relay her thanks for the gift to Jane, Alistair pauses, but doesn’t ask what ends up being the obvious question.  Instead, he grunts “good” and leaves in a huff.

After observing the Russell family’s dysfunction from a distance, Anna witnesses evil husband Alistair (Gary Oldman) murder Jane.  She didn’t take any pictures of the event, which seemed unbelievable to me.  But having actual evidence would make the movie a much shorter one, and the movie has much more in store for Anna.  (I’ll take a wild guess that Moore was relieved to be out of this movie after only a few minutes of screen time.)

Before continuing further, I want to say that I understand that movie characters are often oblivious to the real world as an unwritten rule. That said, Anna’s lack of self awareness borders on ridiculous.  Here’s a character so familiar with classic movies that she can quote dialog from them real time while drunk, and at no point does she realize that her life has essentially turned into a remake of Rear Window.

Anna calls the police, but fearing for Jane’s life, attempts to save her by venturing out into the outside world.  Armed with an umbrella, she makes her way across the street and passes out.  She wakes up to find two detectives in her house.  Detective Little (Brian Tyree Henry) plays the good cop while Detective Norelli (Jeanine Serralles) plays the blunt, quirky cop.  The two are such an odd couple that I thought they walked in from a David Lynch movie.  Their interactions are so strange, I really wished the camera followed them out of Anna’s house and into a completely different movie, but it was not meant to be.

Alistair naturally is upset because Anna made up the whole story about him killing Jane.  He produces Jane on the spot, and naturally it’s not the Jane Anna met.  Instead, it’s Jane as played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, looking and behaving so awkward I thought it was her first day acting.  She promises that she’s Jane, and I could not remember anyone ever promising that they are who they say they are.

After being humiliated, Anna takes her defeat in stride and decides to play a junior detective, searching for information on why Alistair left Boston.  She finds out about Alistair’s executive assistant’s mysterious death.  She decides to ask David about the woman she thinks is Jane, only to snoop in David’s mail, which is lying on the floor.  David snaps and says he’s in violation of his parole.  Unfortunately, his sudden transformation from buddy to loose cannon is just one of the several unconvincing twists in the plot.

Soon after Detective Little and the rest of the cast meetup at Anna’s house to harangue her.  If there is an off-off-broadway play loosely based on Rear Window, I’d bet it would have a scene like this one.   After Alistair and the real Jane tell the detectives that Anna has been spying on them, Anna pitifully attempts to save her neck by throwing Alistair and David under the bus.   Detective Little confronts Anna with the knowledge that she’s actually separated from Ed and Olivia because they died in a driving accident.  The entire cast watches Anne as she falls into a reverie of that fateful night, and the movie finally reveals what it actually is about.

I’ve said before that TWITW serves as a vehicle to punish its heroine.  The big reveal during the “everyone on stage” scene is that Anna’s earlier transgression (sin) was having an affair.  Her husband confronted her about it while they were driving in a snowstorm to their vacation destination.  (Horrible timing for him to do that.)  Anna took her eyes off the phone to grab her cell phone, and the car drove off the road.  As punishment for her sin, Anna accidentally causes the death of her family, becomes an agoraphobic-asexual-alcoholic and lives in seclusion.  Countless other thrillers have characters that commit adultery, and usually someone dies as a result, but I don’t recall one where the adulterer’s family paid the price for their sins.  This revelation seemed incredibly cruel, but the movie still has further to go.

TWITW spends a lot of time trying to convince us that Anna may have hallucinated Ethan’s mom getting killed, or even hallucinated seeing her at all.  Alistair never admits to her existence.  Fortunately, David is able to clear things up for Anna and the audience.  The Jane Russell Anna drank with was Katie, Ethan’s birth mother.  Alistair has been paying money to keep her away from Ethan.  David admits to spending one night with her, then avoiding her the following day because she was so annoying.  TWITW definitely has a misogynistic streak.

Remember how the Russell family relocated to New York due to a “troubling incident”?  All along, TWITW had been implying that Alister killed his assistant, but never provided a reason.  As it turns out, it was Ethan who killed his father’s assistant.  He never offers a reason throughout his “killer’s monologue” why he’s killed two women, but if I had to make a guess, it’s because he’s a mix of sociopath/psychopath.  His abused child routine was all an act to get close to Anna, so he is either a prodigy as an actor or a diabolical little SOB.  Like most budding serial killers, he just enjoys his work and lives in the moment.

TWITW spends a lot of time trying to convince us that Anna may have hallucinated Ethan’s mom getting killed, and that Alistair did it.  When Ethan is revealed as the one who killed Katie, it seemed like a plot twist influenced by Oedipus.  His reasoning is that she was a bad mom.  The movie definitely jumps the shark by having Ethan turn out to be a murdering genius.  

Like a lot of bad movies, the answers it provides only yield more questions.  Why does Anna’s family dying in a car crash cause her agoraphobia?  How can she afford her walk-up when she’s unable to work?  (David’s rent certainly can’t cover all of the costs.)  Why did Ethan kill his father’s administrative assistant?  Why did Alistair relocate his family to Manhattan after her suspicious death if he wasn’t guilty of the murder doesn’t have a job in the city?  How was Ethan able to cover up his mother’s murder so quickly before the police arrived?  How was he able to hide murdering his mother from Alistair and the real Jane Russell?  Did they leave a troubled  fifteen-and-a-half year old boy home alone?  (I need a drink.)

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Amy Adams, Gary Oldman or Julianne Moore were attracted to this material.  Julianne Moore was completely unconvincing as Ethan’s biological mother.  Moore is far too intelligent and sophisticated to play a bubblehead former meth addict.  As Alistair, Gary Oldman basically gets to play the menacing old white man character.  The character is so one-note, I can only figure Oldman agreed to play the role as a thank you to Netflix for being cast as the lead in Mank.  Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance of Jane Russell was so odd.  I kept thinking she was suffering from jet lag during filming.  The only memorable performance was by Jeanine Serralles as Detective Norelli.  I’m not sure what she was trying to accomplish with her Lisa Stansfield haircut and stilted delivery of bad-cop dialog, but at least it was interesting to watch.

TWITW’s skill, if I can call it that, is to include two actors who have played Captain America and still not be interesting.  As Ed, Anthony Mackie is reduced to a frustrated, critical husband.  All of his natural charisma must have been left on the set of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.  Wyatt Russell’s David starts out as a nice guy, then becomes mean when Anna looks at his mail lying on the floor.  Why he gets so upset over the revelation that he was in jail is beyond me.  He’s a singer/songwriter/handyman after all.  You’d think he would have learned to live with life’s curveballs after a while.

To add insult to injury, the movie has only one African American character, Detective Little, and has him apologize to Anna for not believing her.  Really?  He needs to apologize to someone who lied to him about her family’s deaths, drinks like a fish while taking her meds and suffers from hallucinations?  Progress this is not.

For some reason, Amy Adams’ recent career choices gravitate towards portraying victims.  For example, her character in Sharp Objects drinks heavily, cuts herself often and finally lets her mother poison her.  Here, Anna is a character with so many character flaws that I felt like I was being manipulated into feeling sorry for her.  When Oldman’s Alistair calls her a “drunken, shut-in pill-popping cat lady”, I agreed with him.  Anna is a character filled with flaws, one who is pilloried for almost two hours, at one point getting hit in the face with a gardening trowel.  Anna is nothing more than a punching bag for the male actors in the movie, beating her up psychologically and physically to a point where I stopped feeling sorry for her and kept waiting for her to show some basic competence.  Anna’s weaknesses felt contrived, and her merciless treatment by the other characters left me feeling pity for her, but not sympathy or compassion.

TWITW is a combination of familiar plot devices from other thrillers that don’t work, devoid of thrills of any kind to take pleasure from.  The movie shamelessly punishes Anna over and over and over as a way of garnering our sympathy, at the expense of entertaining us.  TWITW repeatedly and blatantly insulted my intelligence, and committed the grave sin of being boring.  The only future I can see for this movie is as a drinking game: everyone must drink whenever Anna drinks (which is often).

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