by Alan Yudman
This is one of those, “whoa, how did I miss this?!?” movies. I thought it was about a long-suffering wife who had had enough of her husband. Guess I should read the descriptions and/or reviews more closely. THE WIFE is a very good movie that has lots of twists, drama and an Oscar nominated performance by Glenn Close.
The long-suffering wife part is kind of correct. But, it is a much deeper problem than that. Jonathan Pryce is a novelist in the mold of Phillip Roth. A New Yorker who writes about the American experience from a Jewish perspective. Spoiler alert… he’s not Phillip Roth. The movie opens with Joseph Castleman (Pryce) and his wife Joan (Close) waiting for a phone call from the Nobel Committee. The call comes. He’s won the Literature Prize and the two celebrate by jumping up and down on their bed.
The movie takes off from there. They travel to Stockholm with their son, David, who is a budding author who doesn’t get the recognition or love from his father he feels he deserves. He does get that support from his Mom. While jetting across the Atlantic on the Concorde, we are introduced to Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater) who is campaigning to write Joseph’s biography.
There is a tension between the couple that you really cannot put your finger on. Then we get the drip, drip, drip of a stunning reveal. Screenwriter Jane Anderson and Director Bjorn Runge go back in time to show us how young Joe (Harry Lloyd) and Joan (Close’s daughter Annie Starke) first met and developed their relationship. He was married.. Joan was the other woman who stole him away. The reason may have been love, but there is also another reason which is hinted at and not confirmed until late in the film.
The film plays out like a mystery. There are clues to the “crime” dropped throughout the film. Bone’s talk with Joan over drinks in a bar where he reveals he knows she’s a great writer. Joe doesn’t remember the name of one of his characters when it is dropped at a Nobel event. The allusion to Joe’s many affairs. The way he dismisses his son’s talent, yet Joan believes he has “it”. Joe seems to be running from or dismissing the truth. And we find that is exactly what is happening.
The cast is wonderful, but none more wonderful than Close. She exhibits a control that makes you believe she is the doting wife, but you can see she knows something and that is bubbling under the surface. Then when it finally comes to a head at the Nobel dinner, she doesn’t say a word, but you can see it in her eyes, her face, her manner. It is a perfect performance and it would not surprise me if she finally wins her first Oscar.
Pryce is solid as usual. Max Irons as the aggrieved son is equally good. Slater’s performance surprised me. He is a sleazy biographer who is worming his way into the good graces of Joan and David using fake empathy. He’s slimy and terrific.
THE WIFE came and went and is now only getting a second look because of Close’s nomination and wins at The Golden Globes and the SAG awards. But that undersells how good the wife really is. Maybe Close elevates it, but who cares? A good movie is a good movie. And THE WIFE is worth your time.