Watching the rich and famous fail in slow motion is an American pastime. Movies like Heaven’s Gate, Eyes Wide Shut and They All Laughed weren’t reviewed — it was their circumstances, their producers, their directors that people wrote about. And that’s how most material on The Woman in the Window (not to be confused with the 1944 Fritz Lang film) begins and ends: ‘A.J. Finn’s beloved novel had a long, hard way to its release.’ Now that it’s here, dumped on Netflix in lieu of a major theatrical release by the already defunct Fox 2000 Pictures, fans of the book are largely disappointed, and fewer still are even aware of the film’s existence.
Compared to the anemic ‘Netflix Originals’ it’s padding out, The Woman in the Window is a stunner. Directed by Joe Wright, and adapted by Tracy Letts from A.J. Finn’s novel, The Woman in the Window stars Amy Adams as Anna Fox, an agoraphobic psychologist who hasn’t left her Manhattan brownstone in months, maybe years. It’s not a bad place to be a shut-in: endless rooms, groceries taken care of by an errand boy (recalling Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation), gorgeous light spilling in from every window and hallway.
Fox’s habits include therapy, drinking, taking a panoply of medication and spying on her new neighbors (‘the Russells — very white’, in her words). A husband and daughter are mentioned but brushed off as ‘separated’. Her shattered interior world juts into the film periodically, and Fox is quickly sucked into Rear Window voyeur-detective mode, convinced that the new husband across the street is hitting his son and probably stabbed his wife to death. Of course, before ‘the wife’ was killed, she came over for a drink and chat.
Doubt about this woman’s existence, along with everyone and everything else in Fox’s life, ensues and for 100 minutes we’re as gripped as she is when she’s watching Otto Preminger’s Laura or a Howard Hawks movie, zonked out on pills and red wine. The Woman in the Window is a good pulpy thriller that would’ve been fun to see in a theater, but it’s clearly compromised. Bad test screenings, reshoots and interminable delays compounded by the coronavirus pandemic have created a movie that feels fussed-with, even if it still works. That line about the Russells being ‘very white’ is spoken in voiceover. Considering the movie was shot three years ago, it’s one of the lines that sticks out the most, as though it’s been shoved in.
But this is not a political movie, nor a social drama or satire. The Woman in the Window is just fun, and that’s it: it has no meaning beyond its immediate, sensual thrills. Perhaps my expectations have been lowered, but I was struck by how good this was on a technical and aesthetic level. The lurid colors of Fox’s apartment recall the pastel rainbow bordello of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Lola, or any of the giallo movies cranked out by Italian masters like Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi and Dario Argento. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and his team go above and beyond in reflecting Fox’s splintered mind and memory. Everything here is serving the film without calling attention to itself — even the split diopter shots.
Whether all this serves the plot or maintains fidelity to Finn’s novel is another story. But The Woman in the Window is far from a failure, and likely the best and most exciting thing recently released by Netflix. Again, I must stress the low technical quality of their original ‘content’, and yes, The Woman in the Window was produced by a major studio with an all-star ensemble cast (check this out: Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Brian Tyree Henry and Wyatt Russell). It also cost $40 million to make, and likely won’t make back a fraction of that, but Netflix’s acquisition was a smart one. This would’ve bombed in theaters in a normal year, and now it’s a pleasant surprise.
This is the exception that proves the rule: Netflix’s programming is terrible. I’d like to know how many of the ‘classic films’ Fox watches alone in her brownstone are available to stream on Netflix right now. I couldn’t help noticing that she’s a physical media holdout, watching movies with Gene Tierney and Lauren Bacall on DVD and Blu-ray. In this age of corporate ‘content’ consolidation, this suggests she’s more sane than she looks.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s July 2021 World edition.