Updated: Aug 5, 2021
The Woman in the Window on Netflix makes a connection to Alfred Hitchcock clear in its title and early imagery. Like the Hitchcock classic Rear Window — notice that titular word — the story’s lead character stays stuck in an apartment, filling time by voyeuristically watching neighbors and suspecting foul play.
The window watcher transforms from Jimmy Stewart in the original to Amy Adams, who is suffering from agoraphobia rather than a broken leg. Unable to go outside, she fills her life with people watching and old films, including Rear Window. Clips from various movies influencing the plot show up throughout the movie, including another Hitchcock title, Spellbound. I heard that one coming, recognizing Ingrid Bergman’s voice before any images showed up. This means two things: One, I may have spent way too much time in front of a screen, and two, I appreciate Hitchcock. Four of his movie posters surround me as I write this, which helps me enjoy aspects of The Woman in the Window and realize where it goes wrong.
On the plus side comes something Hitchcock recognized: the value of a great cast. Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Anthony Mackie step in to support lead actress Adams, a performer with a strong track record, including multiple Oscar nominations. As for the plot, screenwriter and actor Tracy Letts adapts a bestseller and plays with a proven plot conceit stemming from that compelling Rear Window setup. Not afraid of using elements that previously worked, director Joe Wright shows a flashy knowledge of Hitchcock trivia. Wright dared to remake such classics as Pride and Prejudice and Anna Karenina, demonstrating an ability to freshen tradition.
But Hitchcock’s success proves difficult to reproduce. Wright maintains many Hitchcock elements while neglecting to add a key trait: humor. Taking itself far more seriously than Hitchcock ever did, The Woman in the Window never reaches the master’s heights.
By coincidence, I pulled a DVD from my library a couple of months ago and re-watched Rear Window. It reminded me how valuable a performer like Thelma Ritter proves, relieving tension at just the right moment with her wry delivery of witty lines. Another influencer, Spellbound, contains many elements found in The Woman in the Window, including an amnesiac character. It also contains a magnetic cast, headed by screen legends Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck, whose charisma helps audiences gloss over the story’s many convoluted and preposterous events. Outrageous, yes, but more entertaining than The Woman in the Window.