May 26

Agoraphobia: “Woman In the Window,” Etc.

The three films addressed in this post all have a main female character with agoraphobia, defined by Psychology Today as “a fear of any place where escape may be difficult, including large open spaces or areas with crowds, as well as various means of travel.”

Furthermore, each of the featured agoraphobic characters is either a mental health professional and/or being treated by one.

I. The Woman in the Window (2021)

In addition to Amy Adams as a child psychologist with agoraphobia, cast members include Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, and Anthony Mackie. The not-a-rave critics’ consensus, per Rotten Tomatoes? “A milquetoast and muddled thriller that drowns in its frenzied homages, The Woman in the Window will have audiences closing their curtains.”

Although little is explained about Anna Fox’s (Adams) condition, she never leaves the house. Stephanie Zacharek, Time, notes that Anna is continually “in a moody haze induced by the anti-anxiety drugs her shrink (Tracy Letts) has prescribed for her, which she pairs with copious amounts of red wine.”

Naturally, the shrink sessions have to be in her home that she never leaves.

One of her main preoccupations is looking out the window (of course), which leads to seeing something very disturbing.

Any reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is strictly intentional: early on we catch a glimpse of James Stewart’s face, in all its neurotic postwar glory, on Anna’s TV screen. His Jeff Jefferies is her dream twin, a man who has come to prefer the prurient watching of life to actually living it.

Zacharek describes this Netflix film as “a modern gothic tale of obsession, voyeurism and possible madness.” The real suspense, she adds, is whether Anna will “ever be able to bring herself to go outside again.”

II. Agoraphobia (2015)

This horror flick is new to streaming (Amazon Prime). An agoraphobic, Faye, is afraid of what’s inside her newly inherited home. “Even looking at the view outside from her safe walls causes anxiety and panic attacks” (filminquiry.com). Importantly, she does have a psychiatrist, Doctor Murphy.

As Faye’s husband will be gone a lot because of his work, a woman is hired to keep Faye company and tend to the house. But possibly her biggest problem lurks inside, not necessarily outside.

Lots of weird and scary things ensue. From filminquiry.com:

Is it Faye’s mental illness playing tricks on her or is there something more sinister going on? As the lines begin to blur between her illness and the paranormal, strange things start to occur in the home. Is she just paranoid? Is someone messing with her on purpose? Is there another presence in the house that no one is aware of?

III. Copycat (1995)   

Filmfare.com rates this thriller as one of the best films that deals with agoraphobia.

Psychologist Helen Hudson ( Sigourney Weaver) suffers from agoraphobia after being harmed by a serial killer, but when another killer starts copycat killings, cop MJ Monahan (Holly Hunter) asks her for help. This new killer is a fan of famous serial killers of yore….He develops a thing for Helen and begins stalking her big time. Helen deduces that he has been following the list of serial killers in the same order as she has been presenting them in her lectures and she tries to work out where and when he will strike next. What follows is a cat and mouse chase between the hunter and the hunted.

Aug 16

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette”: Film from Book

An artist must create. If she doesn’t, she will become a menace to society. Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette 

When interviewed for Psychology Today in 2013 by Jennifer Haupt, author Maria Semple gave the above quote as the “One True Thing” she learned from writing certain lead characters in her satiric novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

What’s the book about? The most frequently repeated and most concise description comes from a New York Times review excerpt: “A misanthropic matriarch leaves her eccentric family in crisis when she mysteriously disappears…”

Janet Maslin, The New York Times, takes this further: “The tightly constructed WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is written in many formats-e-mails, letters, F.B.I. documents, correspondence with a psychiatrist and even an emergency-room bill for a run-in between Bernadette and [neighbor] Audrey. Yet these pieces are strung together so wittily that Ms. Semple’s storytelling is always front and center, in sharp focus.”

Apparently, however, the new movie adaptation may not live up to expectations—it’s getting an awful lot of disappointing reviews.

Per Rotten Tomatoes, Richard Linklater‘s new film stars Cate Blanchett as Bernadette, “a loving mom who becomes compelled to reconnect with her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself for her family. Bernadette’s leap of faith takes her on an epic adventure that jump-starts her life and leads to her triumphant rediscovery.”

Pre-“adventure,” Bernadette’s become disconnected with herself for quite some time. Benjamin Lee, The Guardian:

Bernadette (Blanchett) is uneasy with her life and with life in general. She’s semi-agoraphobic, choosing time with family in her crumbling, extravagant, ever-dripping home rather than the risk of encountering the horror of other people and ‘the banality of life’. Her tech bro husband (Billy Crudup) is worried about her descent into pill-popping madness while her daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), hopes that a family trip to Antarctica will help bring them all together.

Slight spoiler ahead: Of interest to this blog is Bernadette’s husband trying to get her help. In the book there’s an “attempt to stage an intervention that would place Bernadette in a mental health facility. In another satisfying moment of comeuppance the movie omits, Dr. Kurtz winds up tendering a letter of resignation after the chain of events make it clear that intervention never should have happened the way it did” (Samantha Vincently, Oprahmag).

The Trailer: Meet Bernadette’s teenage daughter Bee and husband, a Microsoft genius. Supporting characters include Kristen Wiig (the annoying Audrey), Laurence Fishburne, Megan Mullally, and Judy Greer as Dr. Kurtz, director of a mental health treatment facility.

Selected Reviews

Elizabeth Weltzman, The Wrap: “Not an ideal match for the source material, but those who arrive without any preconceptions – or are willing to stray from the novel’s style – will appreciate the assets of a modestly engaging and gently touching dramedy.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “Amusing and sleepy pretty much describe this movie…”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “If the family dynamics feel perfunctory and too-neatly resolved by the end…Blanchett’s nuanced portrayal of stymied creativity, exacting taste and sensibilities too bold and well-judged for an uncaring world manages to be funny and uncompromising in equal measure. In her capable hands, Bernadette Fox doesn’t wind up being likable — a quality Bernadette would surely detest — but she’s worthy of love all the same.”

Mar 02

“Agorafabulous!”: Comedian Sara Benincasa’s Agoraphobia

Stand-up comedian and writer Sara Benincasa has a new book entitled Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroomwhich is about her experiences with panic attacks, agoraphobia, and depression.

Who is Benincasa? LA Weekly notes that she’s “like a crazier Tina Fey.” The Chicago Tribune refers to her as “delightfully loopy.” The Huffington Post says she’s one of their “favorite female comedians.”

Previously, Benincasa has toured in a one-woman show on the same topic, and, as stated on her website, it’s “garnered great reviews at festivals and one-night stands around the country.”

Benincasa points out in a recent blog post that the process of dredging up old stuff in order to write this book led to a relapse of depression with suicidal thoughts. She went back to therapy. She went back on medication. And she relearned “…a few cardinal rules of living with depression: 1.) Eat properly. 2.) Sleep properly. 3.) Take your pills properly. 4.) Repeat as necessary (which means daily, for the rest of your life.)”

As for the Agorafabulous! reviews:

Booklist: “Hilarious. . . . With expert pacing, the stand-up comic mixes humor and poignant anecdotes from her teen, college, and young adult life. As her empowering tale makes clear, she survives and thrives (with a little help from family, friends, and Prozac).”

Kirkus Reviews: “…Benincasa recounts her adolescent devolution into a ‘full-on, obsessive, cowering, trembling agoraphobe’ [who] discover[s], by accident, the healing power of stand-up comedy. Fabulously quirky and outrageous.”

Publishers Weekly: “Using humor to help her overcome the anxieties that once dominated her life, Benincasa discovers her gift for comedy and storytelling, and finds tranquility.”