“The woman in the window” evokes two emotional states that are largely associated with the Covid-19 pandemic: real estate envy and the state of melancholy drift that some psychologists describe as languishing. The response is purely coincidental, as this adaptation of a 2018 novel by JA Finn and directed by Joe Wright (“Atonement”) was originally planned for the theatrical release in 2019. In short, it fell through the cracks of Fox-Disney merged and ended up on Netflix, where it feels strangely at home.
Speaking of home: Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams) lives in a very beautiful building – a large brown brick on a quiet block in Harlem. Anna, whose husband (Anthony Mackie) and young daughter (Mariah Bozeman) are elsewhere, suffers from acute agoraphobia and chronic anxiety, which she treats with handfuls of pills and large glasses of red wine. Her psychiatrist (Tracy Letts, who is also credited with the script) makes house calls, and soon many other people interrupt Anna’s solitude. Her first floor tenant (Wyatt Russell), two detectives (Brian Tyree Henry and Jeanine Serralles) and members of a troubled family who just moved in across the street.
Like so many of us, Anna responds to the boredom of existence by watching old movies, including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and thrillers, which feel on the nose because of their mental state and voyeuristic tendencies. Like Jimmy Stewart’s character in Rear Window, she believes she has witnessed a murder and the question is whether she or the mystery will solve first.
It should be a more interesting question. “Die Frau im Fenster” (which shares its title with a Fritz Lang Noir from 1944) is not just another mediocrity of the genre. It’s a high-end genre mediocrity with lots of formidable names. Bruno Delbonnel served as a cameraman. Danny Elfman wrote the score. Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore and Jennifer Jason Leigh are on the doorstep along with talented young actor Fred Hechinger.
The result is something that looks and sounds like a good movie at times without ever actually being one. This is not an uncommon phenomenon these days as prestige television and studio filming and publishing come together to produce shiny goods that are appealing in part because they resemble things people remember they liked at some point.
“The Woman in the Window” is similar to other psychological thrillers about women in need – including the most recent Netflix original “Things Heard & Seen” – without being terribly exciting or psychologically illuminating. It would be especially difficult to spoil the plot because the plot is all there is: a mechanistic series of subtleties and carpeting that lead to a climatic sequence of action notable for its sloppiness and lack of conviction.
Up to this point, Adams is doing what she can to add coherence and credibility to a story that does not have its own. She has a knack for playing competent, astute characters besieged by internal demons and external pressures – marginal women who are both personable and a little scary – but her recent projects have exploited that ability rather than expanded it. For his part, Wright cannot conjure up the wit or malice to distract or make fun of Anna’s ordeal.
When you’ve exhausted the other options available, it’s safe to pour yourself some Merlot and frolic in the living room while this movie is playing in the background. We’ve all been through this. But in my professional opinion, you might at least consider leaving the house.
The woman in the window
Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. Watch on Netflix.