STARS: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Max Irons, Annie Starke, Harry Lloyd
DIRECTOR: Bjorn Runge
Oh, our films do so reflect the times we live in! Our #MeToo times. And The Wife falls right into politically correct lockstep with all of it.
Renown author Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), his wife Joan (Glenn Close), and their son David (Max Irons), are on their way to Stockholm where Joe will accept the Nobel Prize for literature. Nice happy family on the surface. Except Joe is a womanizer and Joan is the long suffering wife--the "wind beneath his wings" as it were. David, an aspiring writer himself, desperately seeks his father's approval, which Castleman gives only half-heartedly. The son has resentment. The wife has resentment. This is a film about resentment.
Through flashbacks we look in on the younger versions of Joe and Joan (Harry Lloyd/Annie Starke) as a young couple in the mid nineteen-fifties. It turns out that Joan is the more talented writer, and she agrees to help Joe revise the first draft of his first novel. The nature and the scope of this "assistance" is at the crux of The Wife. Let's just say he wouldn't be where he is today without her.
The reason Joan agrees to sublimate her own literary ambitions and pour herself into all of her husband's subsequent works--essentially becoming his ghost writer--is due to the assumption (that the movie wants us to buy into) that women writers couldn't get published at the time. Old Boy Network domination. And that's the major flaw of the movie...fake news!
Rachel Carson, Flannery O'Conner, Iris Murdoch, Ayn Rand--and the list goes on--were all making names for themselves during the fifties. But let's be generous and agree that the glass ceiling for women existed to a great extent in the literary world as it did in most other occupations. Those damn men.
Glenn Close has an impressive body of work, but here she is guilty of playing her character one-dimensionally. She has seething rage just below the surface, but that opens up more questions about her than it answers. Joan was complicit in her husband's deception for all this time--she benefited from it equally (everything but the recognition), so you may ask yourself is this level of rage justified? Because it makes her a shallow character where a more complex one could have emerged had she appeared a bit more torn emotionally.
And when the poop finally hits the fan, it's shades of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton going toe-to-toe with each other in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.
It's just too much. As is the price of a ticket for this one.
Grade: C -
For me, The Wife is Big Eyes with a literary twist. Yes, there are differences but the bottom line is the same: the talented one gets used and abused by the untalented one. Unlike Tim, I was impressed with Glenn Close's portrayal of the uber supportive wife. She has such expressive eyes, especially when they're smoldering. And another actor I love, Christian Slater, was appropriately smarmy as a writer eager to pen our philandering prize-winner's biography.
Yes, some of the scenes dragged a bit. The couple's public persona versus their bedroom battles, for example. Still, I found the premise interesting and, as a woman in showbiz myself (songwriter, author, etc.), I could certainly work up some emotional steam over credit not being given where credit was due.
I loved the shots at night of Stockholm, a city I was unfamiliar with. And I had to chuckle inwardly at the idea of Bob Dylan in this very prim and proper setting, bowing to the king as he accepted his Nobel medal!
Grade: C +