“The Wife” (2017)
Running Time: 100 minutes
Written by: Jane Anderson
Directed by: Björn Runge
Featuring: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce and Christian Slater
Joe Castleman: “So if I’m such a talentless piece of fucking shit, why the fuck did you marry me?”
Joan Castleman: “I don’t know.”
“The Wife” (2017), the latest film featuring the wonderful Glenn Close arrives on DVD this week, it features her Golden Globe winning performance as a woman who is seemingly in her Nobel Prize winning husbands shadow, but who has been the constant in his life, she is completely unnoticed in her life as her partner who is actually the weaker of the two, receives all the glory from his writing that has captured the imagination of millions for decades. Of course this film is an analysis of a life that reeks of desperation as Joan (Glenn Close) is the actual talent in the relationship and she pushes this out and through Joe (Jonathan Pryce) who as it happens does not have the actual talent to become a great writer. This is a film about lies, sexism, self-doubt and the power dynamics that exists in any long-term relationship, especially one that is at least partially based on one person being gifted and unable to own up to it, whereas the other is a pedestrian talent, but is able to cash in on societal norms that will not let the other be a truly whole person. Jonathan Pryce plays a man who is only able to get where he does because he is a white man that exploits those around him, seeing nothing wrong with that in the slightest, in fact he never admits he has actually done anything wrong or taken advantage of Joan.
“The Wife” is not only a revelation of a film but is all about revelations, it has at its heart secrets that have been bubbling below the surface for decades that come to the surface at the Nobel Prize ceremony when even without an investigation it becomes apparent that Joe is a weak man who does not recognize his weakness, he never once recognizes his wife’s strengths which is the real sin of the movie, he also believes his own press while at the same time his wife is unduly hard on herself in terms of what a woman can achieve in the time period in which she came of age. The tragedy is that Joan is never recognised, as the genius, even when her husband receives the Nobel Prize in literature, which it turns out, is hers by right, talent and hard work. This is also a tragedy about a life misspent creating works of art that are seen as someone else’s representation of life, not only that it is about entrapment, guilt and control, the only way a husband can control a wife while he not only cheats on her but sucks all that is good about her, stealing it, passing it off as her own, where the lie becomes truth so much so that one of the people involved will not own up to their misdeeds.
“The Wife” revolves around Joan and Joe who remain complements after nearly 40 years of marriage. Where Joe is casual, Joan is elegant. Where Joe is vain, Joan is self-effacing. And where Joe enjoys his very public role as the great American novelist, Joan pours her considerable intellect, grace, charm and diplomacy into the private role of a great man’s wife. As Joe is about to be awarded the Nobel Prize for his acclaimed and prolific body of work, Joan starts to think about the shared compromises, secrets and betrayals.
“The Wife”, is written as it should be, by a woman, Jane Anderson, who has written some other excellent television miniseries and movies in the form of “Olive Kitteridge” (2014) and “Normal” (2003), winning an Emmy for the first and nominated for the second. This is a movie that has insights, truths and revelations only a woman could know and experience. It could be about almost anything where power dynamics are in play, but in a post #metoo era it resonates even more so, with sparky dialogue and a story many will recognize as a truth that can only be understood if experienced. The only thing that lets the movie down is the direction by Swedish Björn Runge who it seems is a talented director, but does not have the skill or power to really deliver this movie, at times it is not personal enough while at others it seems to lack real punch. In fact all the heavy lifting is done by the two great leads in Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce who are here at their finest, as well as absolutely believable which is where this movie really succeeds in their ability to convince an audience that they have been married for decades while both harboring a devastating secret.
There is absolutely no doubt that the strength of this movie is the central performance by Glenn Close who is ably supported by the wonderful Jonathan Pryce, both give their all to roles that represent a culmination of two distinguished careers both in film as well as on stage. However it is Close who steals the limelight as a woman who has to deal with her emotions, for the most part, internally. Right from the commencement of the movie there are complex power relations in play, which by the end of the movie have been revealed to be false, they come to light as well as reach a kind of final full circle, it is all reflected in her eyes, her mannerisms and finally her voice. The performance is one that is instantly recognisable as many woman have been playing parts for centuries, not allowed to be their own person, to be a three dimensional being with real choice for their lives, they play the mother, the wife, the cook and many other roles that men do not have to even think about, so this movie is part of the current zeitgeist of attempted equality that society, in the Western World, is starting to through, how successful it will be might be reflected in the closing moment of “The Wife”.
Within the movie itself there is a parallel narrative that is set in the present of the couple in Sweden going through the process of receiving the Nobel Prize, intercut with the past lives of the couple as they meet and their relationship becomes cemented, especially with the writing of his novels, and the secret of the relationship is revealed. Of course as the plot unfolds then to does the importance of the narrative start to be revealed which is extremely important to this movie as it does impact how the audience reacts to the film itself, which is vital for its success. It is of course a way to make an impact past the performances of the leads, having to explain plot points, although that does occur which could be a result of the director not speaking English as his primary language.
As I have stated this is a movie about performance, while the Academy Awards have not been announced yet, you can definitely bet that Glenn Close will be nominated for Best Actress, if there is any justice she should win as this is a performance for the ages, at once reserved but defiant right to the end of the movie, fatally so. If you want to watch a movie that is eminently re-watchable then this is for you, it is a move that has two pure performances that is rarely seen in today’s cinemas.