“The Wife” Has Much More To Offer Than Just The Leading Lady’s Performance
Based on Meg Wolitzer’s best selling novel “The Wife”, and adapted by screenwriter Jane Anderson (“It Could Happen To You”). Swedish filmmaker Björn Runge brings the novel to the screen in a film that spent fourteen years in development. During the promotional rounds for the film Glenn Close joked that “It took 14 years to get made because it’s called The Wife”. I for one don’t see why it was such a battle to be made, but after having seen it I’m glad it has been.
71-year-old actress Glenn Close, has been receiving much attention and praise for her performance as Joan Castleman. Many claim it’s a return to form and predict that this is her year to finally earn that Oscar win. Glenn Close has been nominated in 27 different award ceremonies and film festivals for her role, including earning her seventh Oscar nomination. She made her debut in 1982’s “The World According to Garp”, that was followed by “The Big Chill” and standout performances in “The Natural” and “Jagged Edge”, but it was 1987’s “Fatal Attraction” that made Glenn Close a household name. The luminous actress gives us a performance in “The Wife”, that slowly simmers to a devastating climax. Close is at the perfect age for her character in “The Wife”.
While everyone is focusing on Glenn Close’s performance, I wish they would shift their focus to Jonathan Pryce. He outshines the seven time Oscar nominee leading lady and never receiving an Oscar nomination himself, this should have been his year. His performance is the stuff of legends.
Pryce plays Joseph Castleman, a novelist of towering talent, success and fame, with an ego to match) who has been claimed as the greatest literary voice of his generation.
Glenn Close is Joe’s wife, Joan, who fell in love with the then married Joe, when she was his writing student at Smith College in 1958. She has set aside her own career ambitions so she could take on the duties of wife, mother, editor, personal assistant and you name it all for her husband of 35 years. Early one morning they get the news Joe has been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
This sets off a whirlwind chain of events. Joan and Joe have two grown children, Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan) who is pregnant, seems happy and apparently has come to terms with the fact that her esteemed father is a serial philanderer who always put work ahead of family, and their son David (Max Irons, son of actor Jeremy Irons), is the obligatory Prodigal Son who is always getting into trouble, who wants to be a writer and is desperate for his father’s approval even as he simmers with resentment.
As Joe basks in the limelight of his award win, he always takes great care to thank Joan and says he couldn’t have done it without her, even though Joan keeps telling Joe she doesn’t want to be cast in the role of the long suffering wife. Instead of listening and respecting her wishes, Joe’s reaction is: “Why can’t we just enjoy all this? Why can’t you be happier for me?”. Joan’s status as the not so significant other is magnified by a pesky writer following them around, who is played in a great supporting role by Christian Slater. Nathaniel Bone is obsessed with writing Joe’s biography, he will go to any lengths even if it means waiting for the right moment to gain the “trust” of at least one family member. He ends up triggering something bigger during the overwhelming weeked. The history of Joan and Joe are developed through the early 90’s and in 50’s and 60’s flashbacks (Glenn Close’s younger self is played by her real-life daughter, Annie Starke). Through the two timelines we learn more about their relationship and exactly how and why they arrived where they are now.
The scenes set in the late 50’s and early 60’s are nearly as riveting and impactful as the sequences in the main story. As great as “The Wife” is, I couldn’t help but think this would have made for a great stage play (If it isn’t one already). “The Wife” starts off somewhat slowly, to the point where you wonder if anything is actually going to happen. Then, at the 50-minute mark, the “twist” of the story kicks in, and suddenly it becomes riveting and the cracks begin to show. For such a little film, it has some big bite.
It’s not until an hour into the hour and forty minute run time that Glenn Close’s performance really picks up. She is able to shift emotional gears with beautiful precision within the span of a minute or less. Bjorn Runge gives only one or two opportunities for Close to let loose and hit the performance in big ways, she is a force in those scenes. Close has a lot of quiet sequences that is less effective performance wise. This is not an Oscar winning role, especially when you pit Close against first time leading actress Lady Gaga in her remarkable performance in “A Star Is Born”. Glenn Close’s past Oscar nominated roles were more Oscar worthy. If she does get the golden statue it will be a repeat of the year Leonardo DiCaprio won for “The Revenant”. Where the statue was given solely for the reason that “it’s their time to win”.
Pryce on the other hand is transcendent and has been completely robbed of what should have been his first Oscar nomination. Pryce gives a devilishly effective performance as the undeniably charismatic but self-centered Joe Castleman, who has been lying to so many people for so long, he seems genuinely shocked when someone tries to call him out on his b.s. I’ll admit watching Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce in the same scene together is a treat, they have unbelievable chemistry.
Bjorn Runge’s “The Wife” is a slow burn that morphs from a simple domestic drama into a powerful mystery. He displays a unique touch for knowing when the right moment is for a flashback. “The Wife” is subtlety visually arresting, but Runge opts for a straightforward approach overall, brilliantly choosing to give center stage to the dialogue and the actors.
GRADE: ★★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★★