Six-time Academy Award nominee Glenn Close stars in “The Wife”, a drama based on the 2003 novel – set in 1992. As the film begins Close’s Joan Castleman is celebrating her husband, well-known author Joe Castleman (played by Jonathan Pryce) receiving the Nobel Piece Prize for Literature. But there seems to be something wrong. We can tell Joan feels a little unappreciated amidst the glowing praise her husband is receiving. But why?
That’s the “mystery” that surrounds the first part of “The Wife”. A reveal, about halfway through, makes it crystal clear why Joan is acting the way she is. Director Bjorn Runge attempts to keep us interested to the end by pushing each character to their emotional limit – to see if/when either or both will crack.
“The Wife” was first shown almost a year ago at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. It got rave reviews, particularly for Close’s performance. Sony Pictures Classics bought the movie but decided to hold it until 2018. Maybe they thought last year’s Best Actress race was already too competitive.
It was a risky move, considering “The Wife” now has to drum-up momentum all over again. But Close absolutely deserves the recognition she’s getting. This is a juicy role that builds in strength over the course of the film, both with loud, passionate dialogue in showcase scenes and in the silent moments. Close’s best work comes when she’s not saying a word at all. Her eyes tell the story. Watching Joan’s agony while listening to Joe make his acceptance speech at the Nobel Prize gala is one of the most emotionally palpable movie experiences of the year.
Pryce is also quite good in a role that provides an equal amount of screen time. It’s difficult to call these two the “movie couple” of the year (because of how their situation progresses), but Close and Pryce pack a strong one-two punch.
Unfortunately, many of the other elements of “The Wife” don’t rise to the level of these two fine actors. Runge uses flashbacks (featuring Close’s real-life daughter Annie Starke) to show us how Joan and Joe met. I’m guessing this device worked better in the novel than it does here.
Christian Slater pops-up early and often as a freelance journalist obsessed with writing Joe’s biography. The character is cartoonish and way too obvious. Max Irons (son of Oscar winner Jeremy Irons) plays the cliche-ridden son of Joan and Joe. He eventually impresses in one late scene. And there are some abrupt editing and unnecessary directorial decisions, including the addition of a final shot which lessens the overall impact.
Still, “The Wife” is definitely worth seeing – for the two lead performances and its relevant themes. This is a relationship you won’t soon forget.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Wife” gets a B-.
Running Time: 100 min.