The Wife, 2018.
Directed by Björn Runge.
Starring Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Max Irons, Alix Wilton Regan, Harry Lloyd, Annie Starke, Karin Franz Körlof, Michael Benz, Nick Fletcher, Twinnie Lee Moore, Jane Garioni, and Elizabeth McGovern.
A wife questions her life choices as she travels to Stockholm with her husband, where he is slated to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Wife is directed by a man, and competently I should add, in the form of Swedish filmmaker Björn Runge, but my how appropriate it is that the novel written by Meg Wolitzer is adapted by a woman, and skillfully so by scriber Jane Anderson. As the story begins, Joe and Joan Castleman (Jonathan Pryce and Glenn Close respectively) are informed that the former has been chosen to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature with the family to be flown out to Stockholm for the celebratory occasion, but make no mistake about it, this is the woman’s story, and an empowering one at that.
It’s not long before we realize that these two partners are much different from each other in personality; Joan is much calmer and graceful (attributes that elegantly become further noticeable thanks to a veteran such as Glenn Close, who is arguably at the top of her game here and most certainly deserving of Oscar consideration) whereas Joe is the stereotypical suffering male artist. Not only is he completely childish (the film opens with him essentially begging for sexual intercourse and rolls along with him needing his lovely and patient wife to set his own watch to trigger a reminder to take his own medication for crying out loud), but he is known to have affairs, which is wife begrudgingly accepts so that their family, which also includes two children and a grandchild about to enter the world, remains intact. Five minutes into The Wife I wanted to award Joan with the Nobel Prize of World’s Greatest Manchild Coddler.
While pregnant daughter Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan) is unable to join the family on the trip on the account of going into labor possibly any day now, David (Max Irons) is along for the trip and an aspiring writer himself. Additionally, the trio is pestered everywhere from the plane to the hotel to bars and more by autobiographer Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater turning in a terrific slimeball performance) who desperately wants the rights to pen a book on Joe. Further contrasting the personalities of the longtime married couple, Joe resorts to confrontational behavior while Joan reacts with polite rejection, privately reminding Joe that this isn’t an enemy he wants to make. Nevertheless, Nathaniel has his own suspicions regarding a family secret that, if true, could derail the family’s stability and ruin the entire ceremony. It doesn’t help that David is frustrated with his father and feeling neglected as if his ambitions as a novelist don’t matter to his father. Meanwhile, anyone following along with this review will rightfully expect that Joan responds with kindness and care for her son’s dreams.
If you’re thinking that this tribe can hold it together for one weekend of adoration, you’re wrong. Besides, if they could, there wouldn’t be a story. Conveniently, the photographer assigned to follow Joe around is quite the looker, and while his continuous lust for younger women assuredly does bother Joan, there is something far more hurtful and wrongful going on. Due to some casual conversation with a colleague who was unaware I had not seen the film yet, the big revelation in The Wife was accidentally spoiled for me, but the circumstances are not as unfortunate as you might assume. No matter what, Glenn Close is outstanding here, but knowing what she knows and watching her facial expressions/body language throughout the course of the escalating friction between the family actually made things even more sympathetic. The cinematography makes it a point to stick with her perspective as much as possible, even during scenes with Joe, but even when it’s not the viewer should always pay attention to her reactions. This is a story of repressed resentment and when the time comes that she has had enough, The Wife becomes a series of heated arguments with each one acting more and more as an awakening to no longer stay devoted to a narcissist emotionally abusing her and holding her down.
It should also be mentioned that there are flashbacks to their younger days, expanding the characters and what drew Joan to Joe in the first place. It’s also here that the film tackles some interesting discussions as to the reason a writer writes and a woman’s place in the industry. It’s a tall order to remain as compelling as Glenn Close, but the scenes during the 60s to complement the present day 1990s material. Outside of a few minor convenient plot details (I’m not sure what reason there is for the couple to have a daughter in the story other than for her baby being born to briefly shift the relationship between everyone a different way), The Wife tells a believable story of suffering, and this time around it’s not the egotistical male artist
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com