Review: The Wife
Starring: Glenn Close, Christian Slater, Jonathan Pryce
Glenn Close is one of those rare talents who has managed to spread her skills across a multitude of entertainment outlets from film to television to animation. She has been a force on the big screen since the 1980’s and has gone on to garner six Academy Award nominations. She has played everything from the strong, but the vulnerable wife (The Big Chill) to one of the most terrifying stalkers in cinematic history (Fatal Attraction) to the iconic children’s film villain (101 Dalmatians), she has even managed to make it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With this exceptional range, one thing that can be said is that she has established herself as one of the most influential actresses in modern filmmaking.
Director Björn Runge’s (Happy End) brilliant interpretation of Meg Wolitzer’s novel, The Wife, provides a platform that capitalises on all that the seasoned actress needs to radiate on screen. Close takes on the role of Joan Castleman, the devoted wife of a celebrated author, Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) who has recently been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Throughout the ceremonies involved with winning the award, Joan begins to reflect on the years of sacrifice that she has experienced to support her husband’s literary career.
Through a series of memories of their forty year marriage and conversations with her husband’s unauthorised biographer Nathanial Bone (Christian Slater), she must come to terms with all she has given up for the benefit of her family. Secrets begin to come to light that could unhinge everything that their marriage has come to represent to the public, the trust of their children and everything that has led them to receive the venerable award in Stockholm. The couple must come to terms with the decisions they made early in their relationship that has moulded them into such an influential pair.
From the marketing, there is very little to draw audiences into the theatre to see this slow-burn drama of self-awareness. Between the minimalistic title and vague storyline, the production team has done all they can to hide this cinematic treasure. Björn Runge’s pacing may not appeal to the theatregoer who prefers the hyperkinetic atmosphere of many of the action films on offer, but it is nearly perfect for the delivery of this fascinating character play.
Not to say that it is the most uplifting of narratives, but the sacrifices of Joan Castleman do touch on a reality that will resonate with individuals around the world. The balance of the love for her family and seeking the recognition that tends to not be given to the spouse of a media darling. Close is so believable and manages to embody this character with such grace, beauty and an underlying passion that proves her mastery of the thespian arts. Jonathan Pryce is ideally cast to portray the controlling, yet vulnerable husband and Christian Slater continues to thrive as the borderline smarmy biographer to lift the overall storyline. In amongst these seasoned actors, Max Irons as the brooding son, David, and Annie Starke as the young Joan were standouts in the supporting cast.
The stark contrasts of the shades of light and shadow become more dynamic as the film progresses. What begins as a typical tale of neglected love, becomes a statement on the differences in the eras that different masters of their craft experience and what lengths people will take to achieve their insatiable dreams. ‘Writers need to write’ is a theme throughout the film and touches on this inner drive of people to do whatever it takes to satisfy the need to express their talents and desires.
Even though God never gets a mention in the film, The Wife draws on the concept of the established gifts afforded to each person and unwittingly suggests that their existence had an origin. In the Bible, there were two writers named David and Jeremiah who spoke of how God wove us together before we were born and had plans for our lives. He was the originator of our thoughts, dreams and talents, which makes sense why so many people work so hard to use them. Despite the sacrifice, the difficulties and hardship, their fulfilment needs to be satisfied.
Glenn Close maintains her place as the centrepiece of this masterful gem. Audiences should not go in expecting an uplifting film, but one that touches on the realities of life that manage to garner laughs, tears and reflection. A treasure worth discovering and ruminating on for some time afterwards.