The Woman in the Window: An Awesome Novel And An Awful Movie

*This article contains spoilers about The Woman in the Window.

Amy Adams, who plays Anna Fox, in the Netflix thriller The Woman in the Window, seems to be playing another version of the character that she portrayed in the HBO show Sharp Objects (2018). In both these works of screen adaptations, she stars as an alcoholic. Generally, in cinematic terms, this means her memories cannot be trusted. When you’re stepping into a thriller, you are already aware of these turns of the screw. What you are then possibly waiting for is the pay-off! Does the plot stay intriguing enough for the protagonist to emerge victorious? And the short answer with regard to this movie is No.

It doesn’t matter if the movie cannot capture the essence of the novel. Since the two mediums are different, the authors and the filmmakers are allowed to use the resources that are available to them to give their respective products a glossy finishing touch. The novel, upon which the latest movie is based, borrows heavily from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). 

While James Stewart’s character in Rear Window is confined to a chair because of an accident he meets with, Fox is confined to the four walls of her large house in New York City. Well, the words “large house” can be an understatement. The house in question has multiple floors, including a basement. Hence, she can easily run up and down the stairs however she wishes to, but she can’t step out of the comfort of her cocoon – she’s agoraphobic. 

Fox takes a lot of pills for the pain she suffers from. She, perhaps, feels guilty for driving off a cliff and getting her husband and daughter killed. Of course, it was a terrible accident. She doesn’t deliberately plan to get rid of them. But it eats her up in a mysterious way and she doesn’t really know what to do about it. Even though it’s a mistake, she has to pay a heavy price to keep the reality away. How can you tell her that it’s not her fault?  

If you have not read the 2018 novel written by A. J. Finn, you won’t get any of these juicy bits to wrestle with in the movie. The first big twist in the 448-page novel is the jolt that Fox gets when another woman is introduced as Jane Russell. 

Fox, like Stewart’s character, spies on her neighbors from morning till night. You can’t miss the voyeuristic eye there. She also takes pleasure in watching Hollywood classics. Her life, therefore, revolves around pills, red wine, movies, and spying. After befriending a woman from across the street, who claims to be Jane, Fox witnesses her murder at the hands of her husband, Alistair Russell. 

This evil act naturally startles her, so she calls the police. But the detectives who arrive at the scene inform her that Jane is very much alive. Now, this is where the plot thickens, as there’s another woman named Jane in the story. When this bolt of surprise springs from the novel, you’re on page 181. But, on-screen, this scene appears around the fortieth minute. Movies, as stated earlier, needn’t follow the path laid out by the source materials strictly. They can gleefully add – or remove – characters and push their plot points toward newer goalposts. 

As The Woman in the Window depends too much on the novel to deliver shocks, it reduces the main highlights to two-bit scenes. The glitzy cast members, such as Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Tyree Henry, and Anthony Mackie, appear and disappear in flashes. You don’t get the chance to understand their characters and, as a result, you just can’t wrap your head around Fox’s disillusionment. 

How can you consume a thriller that doesn’t spend time on building its twisty world in which the protagonist and the antagonist don’t have the freedom to challenge each other? Director Joe Wright, who has previously helmed Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007), lets the film tumble down the stairs of mediocrity in unimaginable ways. The movie was originally supposed to release in 2019, in theatres, and, despite the production delays (re-shoots, re-editing, etc.), the project doesn’t seem to have been fine-tuned. 

If The Woman in the Window had been developed as a miniseries à la Sharp Objects, or Little Fires Everywhere (2020), it’d have gotten the necessary padding from the screenwriters. Though the climactic confrontation between Fox and the murderer is altered, it doesn’t add a fresh dimension to the staid narrative style. It’s too late already and you want the end credits to show up sooner rather than later. In the future, if you wish to argue about how books are better than movies, you can definitely use this as an example.

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