So really, it’s no surprise that the film sat with a rating percentage in the low 30s on Rotten Tomatoes on its release date; Washington Post chief film critic Ann Hornaday also deemed it “a dud of a movie.” Here’s how “The Woman in the Window” went from a potential Oscar competitor to a puzzling punchline.
February 2019: The New Yorker investigation
“The Woman in the Window” was published in January 2018, to much excitement. It debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list and was compared to the smash “Gone Girl,” Gillian Flynn’s twisted thriller turned box-office hit. A year later, the New Yorker published a long investigation into its author, book editor Dan Mallory, who wrote under the pen name A.J. Finn. The piece reported Mallory fabricated many stories over the years, including lying about having cancer and that his mother died of the disease. After the article published, Mallory admitted that both those stories were untrue, and said he had “severe bipolar II disorder” which resulted in “crushing depressions, delusional thoughts, morbid obsessions and memory problems.”
These revelations prompted many questions. “Surely, it must be unnerving to discover that a colleague has lied repeatedly, elaborately and lucratively about his life,” The Post’s book critic Ron Charles wrote. “But should that matter to us, his readers?”
July 2019: The audience confusion
On the surface, “The Woman in the Window” seemed primed for a blockbuster film. An agoraphobe who thinks she sees a crime take place but is either imagining the whole thing or being gaslighted by everyone around her? Sign us up! It’s no surprise that Fox 2000 Pictures (acquired and then shut down by Disney) bought the movie rights almost two years before the book published.
However, an unreliable narrator can also make for a complicated movie. The film was originally scheduled to open in October 2019, but that summer, the Hollywood Reporter confirmed that it would be delayed until 2020 for reshoots because test audiences were baffled. “A twisty mystery with a third-act reveal and large chunks set inside the mind of Adams’s depressed character, ‘Woman in the Window’ has proven a challenging adaptation,” THR reported.
Elizabeth Gabler, Fox 2000′s president, acknowledged that they were “dealing with a complex novel. We tested the movie really early for that very reason. We wanted to make it better, and we’ve had Disney’s full support in doing that.”
Post-summer 2019: The reshoots
The film was directed by Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Anna Karenina”) and written by actor/screenwriter Tracy Letts, who told the Playlist that the experience, overall, “kind of sucked.”
“It took a long time. It was harder than I thought it was going to be. I read the book and I thought, ‘Oh this will make a good movie, I can do this job.’ And then I got into the weeds of it,” said Letts, who also stars as the therapist of Adams’s character. “I was also working with a lot of producers, a director and they had a lot of notes and it was hard.”
He said that even though everyone was “pleased” with the final result, a test audience didn’t like it. “So there have been some rewrites and reshoots that I didn’t have anything to do with.”
The Hollywood Reporter shed some light on this last month in its exposé on uber-producer Scott Rudin and his reported abusive behavior behind the scenes; Rudin was one of the “Woman in the Window” producers. “As was the case with many things involving Rudin, it was fraught with drama, say sources, with the producer taking the reins from Wright after the Fox 2000 thriller tested poorly, then hiring [screenwriter/director] Tony Gilroy to write for reshoots,” the magazine reported. “In the end, sources say, it tested about the same.”
March 2020: Pandemic delays
That summer, Deadline reported that Disney sold the film to Netflix and insisted it had nothing to do with the New Yorker’s investigation into Mallory. “An adult-themed thriller isn’t a good fit for the family friendly Disney+ streaming service, and release calendars are going to be overloaded when movie theaters reopen and audiences return,” Deadline wrote.
March 2021: An actual release date
This spring, Netflix finally announced the real premiere date in a tweet.
This resulted in cheers from fans eagerly awaiting the movie (which at this point had become a bit of a running joke in some social media circles) and clear relief from the creators.
“Oh my God,” Wright, the director, said to Entertainment Weekly in response to a question about the movie’s “arduous journey.” He said that early audiences did find the plot “too opaque,” and while the creative team tried to clear things up in reshoots, they didn’t want to dumb it down.
“There’s an enjoyment in not knowing what’s going on,” he said. “But at the same time, you have to give the audience something to hold on to — you have to lead them through the labyrinth of mystery and fear.”