The Wife Review
Some artists are too easily taken for granted because of their consistency. You would normally expect sustained excellence to be recognised on a grand scale but sometimes offering too much craft is simply taken at face value. It’s an issue that has hung over Glenn Close’s career for as long as you care to remember. For quite some time she has been seen as the actresses' actress - acknowledged by her peers for the many outstanding performances she has given in cinema, but without a crowning moment to cap it.
In many ways her latest film, The Wife, serves as the perfect summary of her career to date. Once again she delivers a performance that is being talked about in Oscar terms (which would make it nomination number seven) but is weighed down by a laborious script that doesn’t do her justice. Based on Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel of the same name it should be a powerful and timely release given its many feminist themes, but Björn Runge’s dour direction fails to bring it to life.
Close is Joan Castleman, married to literary giant Joe (Jonathan Pryce). We meet them back in 1992 as Joe nervously awaits a phone call from the Swedish Academy about his winning of the Nobel Prize for literature. While their marriage seems solid enough from the outside we are given early glimpses of Joan’s unhappiness through small eye movements and slight changes to her facial expression. Close remains subdued for much of the film playing the dutiful wife smiling and nodding alongside her husband’s brilliance but tiny glances and the pursing of her lips reveal something is gnawing away inside.
The Castlemans head over to Sweden for the ceremony with their grown-up son David (Max Irons) in tow. He’s an aspiring writer seeking approval that never arrives from his father, adding to the growing bitterness within the family. David is a whiney young man who would be better served going his own route instead of hanging round his father’s coattails. There is also no real need for him to be in Sweden at all, and he’s only there to add to an already overloaded script purely for dramatic purposes.
Flashbacks to the earlier days of Joan and Joe’s relationship (played by Annie Starke and Harry Lloyd respectively) reveal she was once an extremely talented young writer deterred from publishing her work in a male dominated industry. We also learn Joe was a married English professor tutoring Joan at university (although the young Joe barely looks much older) and their affair led to the break-up of his first marriage. Although married ever since it set the tone for their own relationship, with Joe being a serial philanderer and Joan seeming to forgive him every time.
Also present in Stockholm is Christian Slater’s sleazy would-be-biographer Nathaniel. He hangs around like a bad smell despite Joe telling him he will never be the official author of his biography. The culmination of Nathaniel and Max’s presence, along with Joan’s growing resentment and bitterness come together to release a hidden secret that both Joan and Joe have been sitting on for decades. As if that wasn’t enough, Joe’s wandering eye is still on the prowl and despite his dodgy ticker he keeps shoving rich, fatty foods down his throat.
The ingredients are all there for a dramatic reveal but we learn about the big lie earlier in the film so it isn’t much of a showdown moment. Close’s face is the star of the show, signalling the swirl of emotions raging inside and offering far more intensity than the script ever manages. Her relationship with Pryce genuinely feels like a couple that have been married for many-a-year and both do as much as they can with the material at hand. It’s hard to escape the idea that The Wife would be far better suited to the stage given how theatrical the whole premise is, and watching them tread the boards rather than being bored at the cinema would be far more preferable.