In Defense (With an Asterisk) of The Woman in the Window

Movies Features Razzies
In Defense (With an Asterisk) of The Woman in the Window

The 2022 Golden Raspberry Awards (or, more commonly, “Razzies”) nominations were recently announced, marking another stain upon the awards season race better off left ignored and unencouraged. But among the celebration (or denigration) of what is deemed “trash” by the esteemed Razzie Awards committee—some, admittedly, very much deserved, some very much not, but either way, who cares—one film in particular stood out to me. Joe Wright’s widely derided adaptation of A.J. Finn’s AKA Dan Mallory’s The Woman in the Window earned an interestingly whopping five nominations: Worst Picture, Worst Actress (Amy Adams), Worst Remake, Rip-Off, or Sequel (Rip-off of Rear Window), Worst Director for Wright and Worst Screenplay for supporting actor/screenwriter Tracy Letts. Alongside Space Jam 2: A New Legacy and Diana: The Musical, The Woman in the Window is one of the most-nominated Razzie pictures of 2022.

The parody awards show has always been something of a disreputable institution. They’re notorious for often panning otherwise genuinely good work (one of the most now-harangued being Shelley Duvall’s Worst Actress nomination for The Shining back in 1981), and for their comfortable position as an overall baffling shelter for undue mean-spiritedness. While not necessarily “good work,” The Woman in the Window’s favorability among the Razzie nominations sparked renewed interest in me for the film. I first watched it back in September 2021, during one of my first evenings in an Airbnb while covering the New York Film Festival. I had thrown the film on out of boredom, morbid curiosity and a desire to be amused by trash that matched the same amount I had that week for the concurrently Razzie-nominated and leagues-more-excruciating Dear Evan Hansen. But I was met with something much milder than the entertaining drivel I expected from Wright’s then-newest film, since passed by his acclaimed Cyrano adaptation that left The Woman in the Window in the…rear window. Ha ha.

The film that I got was imperfect, but perfectly enjoyable. A less-than-compelling mystery partly due to the source material the film is lifted from, The Woman in the Window offers ladies everywhere a chance to finally have their own girlboss moment as voyeuristic Jimmy Stewart peeping on his neighbors through a camera lens. The story follows agoraphobe Anna Fox, a child psychologist whose PTSD from causing the accidental deaths of her husband (Anthony Mackie) and daughter some time ago has manifested as an inability to leave her home. There, she occupies her time with her fluffy white cat Punch, her easily infuriated tenant David (Wyatt Russell), drinking too much wine, regular sessions with her psychiatrist Dr. Karl Landy (Letts) and spying on those who dwell nearby. Her interest is particularly piqued when a family moves in across the street: The Russells, comprised of father Alistair (Gary Oldman), teen son Ethan (Fred Hechinger) and mom Jane, the latter of whom is first played by Julianne Moore and then, curiously, Jennifer Jason Leigh.

This is because, at first, Anna spends a lovely evening schmoozing in her home with a woman who she believes to be her new neighbor, Jane Russell (Moore), only to discover a few days later, and after witnessing what appears to be First Jane’s murder, that a different woman (Leigh) is claiming to have been Jane all along. The remainder of the story involves Anna’s increasingly erratic behavior and delusions due to her medication intermingling with her very real concerns about the Russell family, causing her to receive hashtag gaslighting from the Russells and the police meant to look out for her (played by Bryan Tyree Henry and Jeanine Serralles), dismissive petulance from David and a growing preoccupation that Alistair is a killer.

The Woman in the Window had a very fraught and very public journey to its final home streaming on Netflix. With the rights having been picked up by the now-defunct Fox 2000 and being produced by the now-defamed Scott Rudin, the film endured reshoots meant to “clarify” plot points due to unconvinced preview audiences that pushed the release from 2019 to 2020, and a pandemic that pushed the release even further into 2021. The novel’s author came under fire for accusations of plagiarism; the composers, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, dropped out during the film’s overhaul and were swapped with Danny Elfman; and the film was finally sold by Disney to Netflix in 2020 after the theatrical release was canceled. As Anne Thompson wrote at IndieWire, the neo-noir led by A-listers was never intended to be dumped onto a streaming site. It was meant for Oscar gold, but Thompson noted that as the last film to be released under the Fox 2000 label before the Fox-Disney merger rendered it obsolete, it marked a final vestige in adult, studio filmmaking. It’s something that the Disney industrial complex couldn’t be less interested in, made clear by its shoddy efforts to promote its 20th Century films like The Last Duel and The French Dispatch in 2021.

So, The Woman in the Window languished, its innards masticated by studio meddling and its reputation tainted by powers and people beyond its control. When it finally debuted on Netflix on May 14, 2021, the critical audience tore it apart even further than it already had been by its own studio and filmmakers. Sitting at 26% on Rotten Tomatoes, the subhead for Alissa Wilkinson’s Vox review declared the film a “big old dud.” Claudia Puig over at FilmWeek for KPCC radio felt that “Wright can’t seem to choose between making this a melodramatic, campy movie, or a taut thriller.” Sara Stewart for Book & Film Globe asks readers “Aren’t you kind of curious to see how lousy it is?” Indeed, that was what initially brought me to the film as I reclined in my musty Airbnb bedroom that was about ten degrees too cold. Instead, I got a film that was pleasantly kitschy, agreeably silly and exceptionally gorgeous.

Richard Brody for The New Yorker was one of the few who acknowledged the film’s merits—his perceived “Fresh” review by Rotten Tomatoes not quite that, but almost—and who gets to the heart of what’s fun and even praiseworthy about The Woman in the Window. He begins his review by writing that, “There are not-great movies that are enjoyable enough—ones that offer an enticing energy of hectic extremes, a sense of extravagant experience that tweaks blandly familiar movie modes, that at least seem like a departure from the usual run of cinematic conventions.” Though the script is, as Brody goes on to mention, junk, the expressiveness of the visual filmmaking elements elevates the material to far more than the most middling of work. Consistently dappled in a kaleidoscope of color, the camera works as a prism refracting the shards of Anna’s fractured psyche. To mirror our lead character’s subjective inner turmoil, the film is a highly-stylized manifestation of Anna’s frenzied reality, heightened by her love of the classic Hitchcockian noirs that the story tenuously apes under the guise of homage.

The Woman in the Window’s arresting visuals, deliberate use of space, rhythmic editing and even a brief sequence of animation also offer a glimpse as to what could have been before its story was lacerated from the inside out. Additionally, I never find the film particularly boring—there is either an actor I enjoy watching on the screen, a beautifully-composed shot or a moment of sheer zaniness that buoys the fleeting 100-minute runtime. This is without mentioning the great Amy Adams, who consistently puts in the work for films that don’t necessarily deserve her, and also Fred Hechinger, who, between this and HBO’s The White Lotus, is proving himself to be a bit too adept at portraying a weird little bastard. And I would be remiss to neglect the fact that The Woman in the Window is one of two Razzie-nominated films, in tandem with Dear Evan Hansen, to star Adams and Julianne Moore as a pair of beleaguered mothers, with Moore playing parent to a sociopathic teenage boy in both.

The Woman in the Window is nowhere near awful enough to warrant consideration by the Razzies, let alone earn five nominations over even one for the singular abomination known as He’s All That. I’m not saying that The Woman in the Window is a misunderstood masterpiece. Quite the contrary. It’s trash, but it’s an earnest and, above all, lavishly stylistic effort that allows it to rise above the most unremarkable dregs of mediocrity—the kind of insipid drivel that the Disney corporation would like to force-feed us under the guise of prestige filmmaking, while it actively obstructs art for adults like the doomed The Woman in the Window. It’s further interesting to note that the dull Black Widow solo film that my friend, myself and three other, different theatergoers walked out of is absent from the Razzies this year. I’m not a conspiratorial person. I just think it’s sort of funny.

Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.

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