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The Woman in the Window

Woman in the Window

Seems like she needs a Netflix subscription of her own, then
none of this would have happened

dir: Joe Wright


This was fun.

I mean, it’s trash (everything I am seeing at the moment seems like different forms of highly differentiated trash), but, for me, it’s highly enjoyable lurid trash.

A lot of critics, reviewers and other humans seemed to hate it because of either what it is or what it isn’t, but I found it enjoyable enough.

Amy Adams is great. She’s great in everything, and she’s great here. A lot of people won’t admit that because they hate or are made uncomfortable by the character she plays here, but I thought she maintained a solid performance throughout, and didn’t overact. There’s one scene where everything kinda shifts, and she slightly transforms into Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, but she carried it off beautifully, I thought.

The two strikes against this movie is that a) it’s a pretty unabashed update on Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which, despite being such a cliché in the canon of great films, is still a fucking great film. The second is that it’s based on a book (boo hiss). And it seems to have come out at around the time where there are a million fucking mystery thrillers about Women With Dragon Tattoos or Girls on Trains or who look through Windows or who just exist and do stuff. There’s even a flick from the 1940s called The Woman in the Window, but it’s got nothing to do with this story.

No, it’s its own gosh darned fucking thing. Based on a book I’ll never read by A.J Finn, this is about a shut-in called Anna (Amy Adams) who lives in a three-four-storey brownstone in Manhattan. She has an absent husband (Anthony Mackie) and daughter (Mariah Bozeman), and hang on to your hat for the explanation of where they are. There are these conversations between Anna and absent husband, and absent daughter, and, at the end of the flick you’ll wonder what the absolute fuck they were meant to be. They’re recorded to sound like phone conversations or phone recordings, but, really, they’re nonsense.

Anna has issues, apparently. She can’t bring herself to leave the house, she takes rafts of prescription drugs, and she drinks a lot of wine. She spends a lot of time looking out of her windows and across the street. Though she can see into a few places, the main place she looks is where the Russells have just moved in, having bought the brownstone across the street.

Almost nothing good, if you can remember your movies set in New York, ever happens in brownstones. I don’t exactly know why, but every time a story is set in a brownstone, I know people are going to get hacked apart and murderised.

There was that one with Jodie Foster – Panic Room, where she and her daughter are chased around their massive brownstone by a bunch of criminals, and Jared Leto, who just happened to be passing by wanted to get in on it. Nothing good happens in that flick, and it’s all because of the stones of the building being brown.

And then of course the Cosby family, and their lovely brownstone in Brooklyn Heights…

‘Brownstone’ really just means a ‘townhouse’, most of which were converted to multiple residences back in the day, but the image of someone swanning around on their own in one of these multiple storey places seems… extravagant and indulgent. It seems mega-selfish. These places are worth tens of millions of dollars. That concentration of wealth, it seems, brings out the worst not in the people that live in them, but in the people around them.

Anna peers through the window across at the lives of other people, perhaps because she hasn’t got much else going on, other than watching classic noir movies on her telly or passing out drunk wherever she feels like it. She does have a disturbingly ugly cat, but that just plays into the stereotype of her being a crazy cat lady.

She never leaves, but people visit. She is a psychologist by trade, but she is visited by a psychiatrist, with whom she has passive aggressive arguments. Classic Amy Adams. Of course the motherhood statements and generic boosterism of counselling isn’t going to work on someone for whom counselling is her bread and butter. She just wants better drugs. Give me all the drugs, she says.

There are times when she is unsure of what, exactly, is going on. Scratch that, actually, she’s always convinced she knows what’s going on, but we’re meant to be unsure as to what the fuck is exactly happening at some points.

Rear Window was predicated on a couple of things, but none of them depended on us thinking that maybe Jimmie Stewart’s character was delusional. Also, the character had an endless capacity for fueling his voyeurism. He could not get enough of peering in to other people’s lives. That way we got to learn these various stories about these other people other than the jerk who may or may not have murdered his wife and then some poor little dog while Jimmy Stewart dozed in his wheelchair.

People tell him he may be wrong, but no-one tells him he’s crazy and delusional. They don’t try to undermine him and gaslight him. Also, the cops don’t bring the alleged murderer into his apartment so that Raymond Burr can berate him in person.

This flick? Well, they take a very different tack. Everyone works to undermine Anna, tell her she’s pitiful and crazy, so no-one believes (admittedly frequently hysterical) Anna including Anna herself. And we, when we forget that she’s the main character, and that stories like this don’t just end after the revelation of the deeply traumatising event in a character’s past that you’ve been teasing all movie, we too start to think that maybe she didn’t see what she saw.

What did she see, after all? She saw a boy called Ethan come over (Fred Hechinger), who’s nice and all, but he has an ogre of a father (Gary Oldman). And then a woman called Jane Russell (Julianne Moore) came over and drank a bunch with her.

Julianne Moore is a lot in this flick. She is a lot of a lot. I couldn’t really tell for sure, but at once stage it looks like she’s negging Anna, and I’m not sure to what purpose.

It feels like people are playing Anna. Even down to the bullshit with Anna watching everything second thing that happens in the house across the street. Most people have heard of blinds, or even curtains. There’s probably a (much shorter) version of this story where Anna tries to invade the privacy of people in adjacent properties, but they have curtains, so she has to do something else to amuse herself.

And whether in the reality of this film or some other, when someone commits a murder assuming the person across the street is watching, maybe they check to see if the bloody blinds are down, or they do it somewhere where every peeping tom in Manhattan isn’t watching, possibly jerking off.

It really looks like someone gets murdered, but when Anna calls the cops, she is introduced to Jane Russell (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Gary Oldman’s character’s wife.

So, huh. Who was that other lady? Did she exist? Did Anna imagine her?

Does Anna’s boarder downstairs (Wyatt Russell) have something to do with it? Oh, yeah, Anna, who’s a paranoid shut-in, for some reason has a boarder in her basement. An actual basement dweller. I wonder if in his spare time he’s writing abusive comments towards people and wishing harm to come to people he disagrees with online. He is shady as fuck, so we wonder, as more revelations are made about the character, as to how in the hell he came to be in her basement anyway?

Seems…not likely. But whatever, maybe she needed the spare cash to spend on more red wine, her vice of choice. Little clues keep mounting up, Anna’s paranoia despite the explanations of all and sundry keeps mounting, and then there’s the explosive confrontation where everyone just feels embarrassed for Anna, and can’t make eye contact with her any more.

Despondent, gaslit, broken: Anna decides there’s only one way out for her. Until, wait a second, what about this photo I took? Does this explain everything, and will it somehow prompt a character to say “Yeah, wait a second, that woman everyone else is saying didn’t exist does exist, and I fucked her too” when he should have said it an hour ago?

You bet Wyatt Russell’s sweet, sweet Captain America wannabe ass, it does. Of course heaps doesn’t make sense about this film, and for a long while it is drowning in red herrings, but the important thing is that while nearly everyone else in this flick is slumming so terribly, Amy Adams commits totally and utterly to this character, one whom it is very hard to like. That doesn’t change the fact that she is right, about this, about everything.

The film actively tries to make you loathe Anna, but I don’t buy it. I think she’s okay, doing the best she can with an awful set of circumstances she didn’t ask for, and I want her to survive, and come out of it okay. If you don’t care about the character, or don’t buy what’s going on, Adams’ acting might not sway you.

I thought she did remarkably well, even if the hell of the life she is enduring is basically what my life has been like for the last twenty years, without the shut in bit (well, at least until the coronavirus years began). This seems like, a lot of people are interpreting it to be very much a film of its moment, of the lockdowns, but in truth this flick was made at least two years before the virus reared its ugly head. Why it languished for so long before release, other than the baffling explanation for who the true villain is, is anyone’s guess. If this had been released in 2018 it would have disappeared without comment, except for smartarses who could have pointed out that, in the book the protagonist in Girl on the Train, pretty much looked in the book like the protagonist in Woman in the Window actually does, so that maybe they should have done a swap and Emily Blunt could have played Anna?

I’ve tortured and belabored this bullshit for long enough. This movie doesn’t make logical sense, but it kinda makes emotional sense. I enjoyed it. It was a crazy ride. It’s depiction of grief and mental illness is horrible and offputting, but you can say that about pretty much any film depicting those things. It’s so fucking manipulative…

But it works. The Woman in the Window gets the job done. It’s trash, but it’s well filmed trash, with its flashes of red, its use of the space, its overall homage to Hitchcock.

I liked it. It’s okay. Shh, shh, it’s okay.

7 times I wonder why the great Jennifer Jason Leigh agreed to have a part with one line out of 10

“I didn’t know you were a handyman. I thought you were a singer-songwriter.”
- “Which is why I’m a handyman.” – all the greats were handymen: Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Rodney Rude – all very handy men - The Woman in the Window