Netflix’s The Woman in the Window, based on the novel by A.J. Finn, is not a good movie. I am not going to argue otherwise. I would argue, however, that despite commentary that suggests otherwise, the movie’s homage to Rear Window is not its primary weakness. Rather, the film’s connections to film noir are part of what makes it fun, even if the style is not executed consistently.
The Woman in the Window picks up with child psychologist Anna Fox (Amy Adams) in the middle of a breakdown. Separated from her family, Anna lives alone in a large townhouse, aside from the tenant in her basement, David (Wyatt Russell). Anna’s agoraphobia keeps her trapped inside the somewhat rundown house, but she is a keen observer of her neighborhood. The rest of the time, she drinks and watches old movies. When Anna witnesses her neighbor, Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman) murder his wife, Jane (Julianne Moore/Jennifer Jason Lee), her credibility is called into question. Did she really see what she thinks she saw?
The influence of film noir is clear not only in Anna’s DVD library, or the nod to actress Jane Russell in the character’s name, but also in the sets, the acting, and the plot. Some of the stranger moments of Amy Adams’s performance look to me like she is drawing on the acting style of the 1940s. It may appear a bit over the top by today’s standards, but I think the audience can see both how Anna is being influenced by her entertainment choices and how The Woman in the Window is trying to be a film noir. Similarly, the central staircase in Anna’s big, empty house is a perfect backdrop for Hitchcock film. I think this movie looks like a big old mess not because of these homages, but because it does not lean into them enough. If these touches had been paired with more use of film noir lighting, really playing up the style, I think it would have seemed more like a fun throwback. Instead, much of the movie looks like a rip-off of an old film with absurd overacting.
For those who read the novel, the film noir influences would be a given as they are heavily drawn on in the book. The plot would also have been paced a lot better. Aside from the minor issues outlined above, I think the biggest problem with this movie is that the screenplay does a fairly decent job building the suspense and then, rather than letting the dominos fall, it reveals all the answers really quickly in the last act. In fact, I think they were actually playing back some of the film at a slightly faster pace, causing the rain to look strange (another instance of film noir styling gone wrong). All told, The Woman in the Window was a fun watch, but the elements that I enjoyed failed to come together into a good movie.
The Woman in the Window was written by Tracy Letts and directed by Joe Wright. It runs for 1 hour 40 minutes and is rated R for violence and language.
What I have most enjoyed lately is the Freeform show Cruel Summer, also available on Hulu. The promotions made the show look like a typical teen soap opera, but the show is actually a fairly intricately plotted thriller that takes place over the course of three summers. Each episode tracks events from a specific day in 1993, 1994, and 1995. When beautiful, popular Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) is kidnapped, nerdy Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) blossoms and takes over Kate’s friend group, even dating her boyfriend, Jamie (Froy Gutierrez). After Kate is rescued, however, she makes shocking allegations against Jeanette that threaten to tear both the Wallis and Turner families apart.
Like I said, on the surface Cruel Summer has a lot of soap opera elements, but the use of the nonlinear plot and the focus on two unreliable characters creates a tense story in which it is really hard to know who to believe. The writing is detailed and smart, creating perfect fodder for fan theories and plenty of suspense. Furthermore, the acting by the young cast strongly portrays their trauma and their growth over the three-year timespan, no small feat as they bounce between different phases of their characters’ lives.
Cruel Summer was created by Bert V. Royal and will run for 10 episodes. It is rated TV-14, with content disclaimers for domestic violence.
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