Sometimes it feels like if you’ve read one psychological thriller from the last few years you’ve read them all. The same tropes pop up repeatedly—the full wine glasses, the dark pasts not disclosed at a therapist’s office, the disturbing events witnessed through closed blinds. from the Girl in the Window lampoons these tropes while also delivering its own mystery.
In the series, Anna (Kristen Bell) sits home most days grieving the disintegration of her family and pouring entire bottles of wine. When a handsome stranger, Neil (Tom Riley), and his young daughter, Emma (Samsara Leela Yett), move in across the street, Anna gets her hopes up, only to have them dashed when Neil’s beautiful girlfriend, Lisa (Shelley Hennig) arrives. After some initial twists ripped straight from The Woman in the Window, Anna has to prove to the police that she saw something across the street before everyone writes her off as delusional.
The Woman in the House is sometimes too heavy-handed with the tropes. Even for a spoof, it lays things on so thick that the writing veers toward plagiarism. Kristen Bell is perfectly capable of doing both great comedy and drama, but I think in early episodes, her comedy would have been funnier if she had played the entire thing straight. At times, her performance is too self-aware, too dramatic and it pulls away from how serious her character is about her delusions and her detective work. As the series progresses, however, she finds the right balance.
The smartest parts of The Woman in the House are when the screenwriters hit on tropes that audiences might not have realized were tropes. For example, Anna’s neighbor, Carol (Brenda Koo), frequently brings up her husband Scott’s important clients and meetings, and only then did I realize how often that happens in novels, too. Although the writing and performances are uneven, if you like this genre, this Netflix series is a must-see for a good laugh.
The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window was created by Hugh Davidson, Larry Dorf, and Rachel Ramras. It runs for 8 episodes and is rated TV-MA.
In theaters or streaming, Nightmare Alley gives audiences director Guillermo del Toro’s take on a film noir drama. Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) is a manipulative carney who convinces a naive carnival performer Molly (Rooney Mara) to go on the road with him. Stanton, however, is soon taken in by a psychiatrist, Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), who has mastered tricks of her own. Toni Collette also stars as Zeena the Seer.
Film noir is one of my favorite genres and del Toro uses some of the best lighting techniques to make this film a gorgeous, moody period piece. I wish, however, that the story reflected more of the taught atmosphere. Instead, it drags along to a shocking, twisted conclusion. The all-star cast performs well enough, but without much real suspense to work with, none of the performers stand out. With such a long runtime, this movie benefits from the streaming option where its technical mastery can be enjoyed without the audience getting antsy from boredom.
Nightmare Alley was directed by Guillermo del Toro, who wrote the screenplay with Kim Morgan, based on the novel by William Lindsay Graham. It runs 2 hours 30 minutes and is rated R.
On Amazon, The Tender Bar has a very different tone, telling an intensely nostalgic story of a young boy on a journey to become a writer. Growing up on Long Island during the 1970s and 80s, JR (Daniel Ranieri/Tye Sheridan) hones his budding writing skills by reading classic novels at The Dickens, a bar owned by his uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), while his mother (Lily Rabe) dreams of sending him to Yale. In the absence of his awful father, Uncle Charlie, and JR’s offbeat grandfather (Christopher Lloyd) provide him with loving, but eccentric models of masculinity and plenty of fodder for his memoir.
The Tender Bar is very light on plot, but the characters are wonderful, making it a good vehicle for Ben Affleck to campaign for awards and for Daniel Ranieri to launch a career. Affleck provides Uncle Charlie with warmth and charm and has so much chemistry with the other actors that he is believable as the glue that sticks his wacky family together. Ranieri’s performance was so compelling that I was disappointed when the narrative abruptly shifted to later years. Overall, this movie is worth watching for the performances and the quirky characters, but there is not much punch to the story.
The Tender Bar was directed by George Clooney and written by William Monahan, based on the memoir by J.R. Moehringer. It runs 1 hour 46 minutes and is rated R.