HITCHCOCK, DE PALMA BEING MENTIONED IN REVIEWS OF 'WOMAN IN THE WINDOW'
Joe Wright's The Woman In The Window premieres on Netflix today, and many reviews are mentioning Brian De Palma:
If you’re among the legion of readers who breathlessly turned the pages of Finn’s novel, you know what’s on deck. If you haven’t, you might wonder whether you’re about to venture in a gaslighting parable, a Vertigo-style setup, another tale of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown or something far more sinister. To get into any plot details past this point is to play hopscotch in a minefield. What can be said is that Anthony Mackie and Brian Tyree Henry also show up, and like Oldman and Leigh, they too feel underused here; the film’s tweaked view of motherhood is a rich vein that’s never quite tapped; and you will need to endure an Overlook Hotel-level maze of plot twists and the kind of major suspension of disbelief that can leave permanent palm marks on your face.
You may also want to preemptively take some Dramamine, given director Joe Wright’s penchant for throwing in skewed, Dutch-angled shots to break up the monotony every few minutes. The filmmaker has always had a gift for cracking open literary texts and getting intriguing films out of them, finding a one-size-fits-all method of turning words on a page into sound and vision; even his experimental take on Anna Karenina manages to get enough Tolstoy on the screen that you recognize the book underneath the meta-theatrical flourishes. He’s also not afraid to swing for the fences when it comes to stylizing his storytelling — this is the filmmaker who, with Atonement‘s unbroken five-minute Steadicam shot of Dunkirk’s devastation, proved that there’s a gossamer-thin line between virtuosity and indulgence.
With Window, he throws in a few grand gestures: a hallucinogenic splash of red across the frame here, a snowy car wreck transposed into a living room setting there, a couple of ingenious modern variations on the ol’ split-screen composition. Mostly, however, the playbook consists of “ape Hitchcock,” followed by blank pages. (Though kudos to cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s ability to inject menace into every dark corner and Danny Elfman’s Herrmann-for-all-seasons score.) When in doubt, throw in an old movie homage or, better yet, an actual clip of an old movie — Rear Window, sure, but also Laura, Spellbound, the Bogart-Bacall joint Dark Passage. These are all vintage thrillers that deal with idealized females and women in peril, mutable and mistaken identities, psychological deterioration, and the effects of trauma, which pertains directly to what The Woman in the Window is digging into with its tale of unraveling. Its inability to jolt life into this crazed, harebrained narrative, or to even sustain tension for longer than a few scenes, feels like it undermines any sort of goal of being considered in that company. You go in with high expectations about what this collection of talent can do with this batshit pulp fiction. You leave feeling like you owe Brian De Palma a thousand apologies.
Adam Nayman, The Ringer
In The Woman in the Window, Amy Adams plays a shut-in who is also a film buff. Every night, she swirls dark red wine in a thin-stemmed glass and falls asleep beneath glowing big-screen projections of classic thrillers from the 1940s and ’50s, babbling along to dialogue she knows by heart. Early on in the film, the camera tracks around a corner and catches a glimpse of Jimmy Stewart dangling precipitously from a ledge in Rear Window, simultaneously signaling the movie’s aspirations to greatness and underlining how short it falls. When Brian De Palma paid intelligent, self-conscious homage to Alfred Hitchcock in movies like Dressed to Kill and Body Double, he was derided by critics as a rip-off artist. Who knows what those same critics would say about Joe Wright’s work here, which suggests a destitute man’s De Palma, or maybe what it would look like if De Palma had really been slumming it all those years: a potentially juicy movie sucked dry of satirical sophistication or subversive purpose.
This is not to say that Wright is untalented. Take 2011’s semi-beguiling action-sci-fi hybrid Hanna, for example. The filmmaker took a standard-issue child-assassin story line—a teenage Bourne Identity—and coded it as a millennial fairy tale, complete with Cate Blanchett as a wicked-stepmother type emerging during the film’s amusement-park climax from the mouth of a gigantic, fiberglass wolf. (It is quite an image.) Wright’s refusal to just phone things in is admirable, and what makes The Woman in the Window watchable—at least for a while—is the tension between the rote-ness of the material and the striving aestheticism of Wright’s visual sensibility: all florid, Eyes Wide Shut–style backlighting, restless, prowling cinematography, and angles that play up the gorgeous, unsettling architecture of Adams’s character’s towering New York brownstone, with its intricate network of spiral staircases and vertiginously deep drop into a forbidding cement basement.
The visual gamesmanship of The Woman in the Window is relentless, and at times the baroque theatricality of the presentation works the way it’s supposed to, conveying the confusion of a woman caught between a drab, depressive reality and a hallucinatory fantasy life, unsure which is worse. But as hard as Wright works, he can’t come up with anything as strange or destabilizing as the behind-the-scenes narrative that led to his film being delayed, reshot, and shunted off to a streaming premiere via Netflix—a trajectory that was not the original plan.
The Woman in the Window is based on a best-selling, pseudonymous novel by the notorious fabulist Daniel Mallory, whose history of lies, delusions, and borderline plagiaristic writing practices was outlined in a phenomenal 2019 New Yorker profile by Ian Parker—an investigative piece that reads like a thriller. In it, Parker juxtaposed Mallory’s use of an unreliable narrator in his debut against the author’s debunked, real-life claims of his parents’ tragic deaths (research revealed that they were alive and well) and undergoing surgery for a cancerous brain tumor (which he did not have). “Dissembling seemed the easier path,” Mallory wrote in response to the article that went so far as to compare him to Patricia Highsmith’s duplicitous psychopath Tom Ripley—a character Mallory had falsely claimed to have written a dissertation on at Oxford.
Suffice it to say that a movie about a promising young novelist lying his way to the top of the publishing industry is potentially richer than yet another variation on the archetype of the middle-aged woman whose mind is playing tricks on her. Currently, Jake Gyllenhaal is slated to play Mallory in an upcoming Netflix series that promises to split the difference between Nightcrawler and Shattered Glass. (Sounds good, actually.) In the meantime, though, The Woman in the Window arrives as damaged goods, its ending reportedly rewritten by Tony Gilroy after a series of disastrous test screenings.
The scenario of a high-profile genre movie left for dead in the wake of an inter-studio merger and the onset of COVID-19 recalls the story behind The Empty Man, but there isn’t likely to be a cult around The Woman in the Window. The question instead is whether its glossy pile-up of big stars, ridiculous twists, and hand-me-down Hitchcock-isms are enough to qualify it as enjoyably kitschy middlebrow-slasher trash, or if it just falls short of so-bad-it’s-good status—if it’s just bad enough to be bad.
At this point, it’s worth asking whether Amy Adams knows the difference, or cares. The Woman in the Window completes an unofficial trilogy with Hillbilly Elegy and the HBO miniseries Sharp Objects in which the actress—whose past brilliance is undeniable—has striven almost fetishistically to give her characters rough, jagged edges. They’re the kinds of “transformational” roles that attract awards attention—or that’s the idea, anyway. (The Oscars didn’t bite on her hillbilly act.)
Here, her Anna Fox is a child psychologist on professional leave while she sorts through some undefined trauma of her own. Wright opens purposefully on a shot of his star’s puffy, bloodshot eye (shades of Janet Leigh’s posthumous close-up in Psycho, for those playing Wright’s game and keeping score). From her eyes on down, Anna is a wreck, and Adams’s performance lands somewhere between the condescending Appalachian karaoke of Hillbilly Elegy and the kamikaze charisma of her role in Sharp Objects, where she was guided by director Jean-Marc Vallee toward a surprisingly credible portrait of self-destruction. The gimmick of her character pathologically carving words into her own flesh only partially accounted for the ways the actress managed to get under our skin.
Back when Mallory was giving interviews about something other than being a serial liar, he claimed that Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl inspired him to write his own book, but The Woman in the Window doesn’t move like one of Flynn’s thrillers. It’s locked in place, like a one-act play—an exercise in nervous tension and claustrophobia. And it isn’t funny, either, another deficiency that distances it from De Palma as well as Hitchcock, with their twin signature grins. It does, however, boast that irresistibly (and derivatively) Hitchcockian hook of a crime witnessed surreptitiously at a distance by a nosy protagonist—the voyeur imperiled by her own peeping.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety
Tracy Letts is a vibrant playwright, but the dialogue in “The Woman in the Window” is weirdly stilted, like someone’s chintzy mainstream-movie attempt at Pinter or Mamet. Adams’ performance is by turns commanding and tremulously self-conscious. And stuff keeps happening that’s so overwrought that the film, in its way, becomes a whirlpool of contrivance. Each time Anna tries to explain her actions, either to her husband or to a sympathetic not-quite-by-the-book police detective (Brian Tyree Henry), she seems paranoid and delusional. But, of course, if everything we were seeing was all just happening in her head, that could be its own kind of cheat. So the contrivances may have to be real after all! “The Woman in the Window” would like to be a contempo “Rear Window,” but it’s so riddled with things you can’t buy that it plays like a bad Brian De Palma movie minus the camera movement.
Jake Coyle, AP
But by hewing close to Anna’s own intense unease, “Woman in the Window” attempts something like the recent Oscar-winning “The Father,” which adapted its protagonist’s dementia. This is the kind of stuff that Brian De Palma would eat for breakfast. He, surely, would find more disturbing and lurid avenues to explore here.