Hollywood has a long and storied history of adapting novels into feature films, and whilst some are absolutely amazing, others tend to suffer a shared fate of feeling far too rushed and far too stripped back from the richness of the original source material. You might think that adapting a flashy thriller would be one of the easier tasks in this arena, and in recent years they haven’t come flashier than A. J. Finn’s smash hit The Woman In The Window. I remember reading the novel when it came out, and though I wasn’t blown away in a Gone Girl type of way, I do remember having some cheap, page turning fun along the way. It was only a matter of time before a big screen version arrived, and in a very 2021 way, it has arrived on Netflix.
Adapted from the 2018 novel by Pulitzer winning playwright Tracy Letts, The Woman In The Window tells the story of Anna North (Amy Adams), an agoraphobic woman who becomes embroiled in a dramatic scenario with her new neighbours when she thinks that she witnesses the murder of their mother (played by Julianne Moore). In a sort of mixture of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Tate Taylor’s The Girl On The Train (another high profile novel to screen adaption), the narrative unfolds as a game of unreliable narrator versus antagonist gaslighting, keeping the audience in the dark until the story finally begins to reveal itself in the final third.
Here’s the damning thing, though, the film is absolute garbage. Whilst A. J. Finn’s original novel is hardly a masterpiece of literary fiction, there are pages and pages of character building and development in that back that is simply not present at all in the movie. In some ways, The Woman In The Window feels like a feature length trailer, merely hinting at stuff and giving minuscule glimpses in the hopes to entice a crowd, except that that is the entire thing, and you leave incredibly unsatisfied.
The furthest I’ll go in the direction of praise is that fact that in key moments, there is a palpable level of tension that comes across very well, but those moments are far too infrequent. This thing feels edited to within an inch of its life, and from what I’ve read about the various audience testing struggles the film went through before release, it’s clear to see that this is very much a cobbled together ‘best we can do’ final product that feels entirely unfinished and unsatisfactory. The film flirts with being campy, and I don’t think I would have minded if that direction had been fully embraced, but the obvious desire to go back to a darker tone turns the picture into an odd, messy disjointed one that never feels like it is comfortable with itself.
I don’t know who or what is guiding Amy Adams of late, but her film choices over the last couple of years have been less than stellar. I wasn’t impressed by her in Hillbilly Elegy, and I’m even less impressed here. As Anna, something about Adams’ performance just doesn’t work for me, the commitment seems to be there, but the material that she has to work with is simply not up to par. The realisation of the character in the script is obviously only half realised, and that is always going to filter through the performance no matter who you have stepping into the role. Be careful, Amy, your good reputation is in danger at this point.
Julianne Moore picks up fewer than five minutes of total screen time as the is she/isn’t she mother than Anna believes to have been murdered, and once again, it feels very much like Moore did a lot more work here that has been left on the cutting room floor in a crazy, sweeping edit. You don’t get someone of her calibre in for such a throwaway cameo.
In fact, the whole film feels like a series of heavily edited cameos. The likes of Gary Oldman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Anthony Mackie, all bonafide stars, are used so sparingly, and it works to distract you as a viewer rather than engage you. Maybe Tracy Letts in particular as screen writer wanted to have Amy Adams be the central star of the show, but in terms of the overall story, it really doesn’t work when you don’t have Anna the character interacting with the others as much as she should be to heighten the feelings of tension and disorientation.
Overall, The Woman In The Window is a straight up mess. The filmmakers have tried to wedge 450 pages worth of tension building story into around 90 minutes of screen time, and it should doesn’t work. The corners they have cut are the ones that the narrative needed to be built on. It feels like you get thrown into this tale with no reason to be invested. Lack of character building, lack of appropriate pacing, lack of pretty much everything to be honest. Skip it and just read the book instead.