The heroine of “The Wife” is usually quiet and reserved, but her seemingly detached façade speaks volume as we get to know more about her and her marital relationship. While she continues to occupy her small place besides her famous husband silently as usual, we come to sense more of suppressed feelings churning inside her, and we are not so surprised when there eventually comes the point where she must deal with what has been beneath their supposedly enduring relationship.
Set in 1992, the movie opens with an old couple anxiously waiting for something in their cozy house located somewhere in Connecticut. They are Joe Castleman (Jonathan Price) and his wife Joan (Glenn Close), and Joe is a famous writer who wrote several acclaimed novels and may receive the Nobel Prize in Literature a few hours later. When there subsequently comes a phone call from Stockholm early in the morning, they listen together to what is officially notified via that phone call, and they cannot help but giddy as celebrating their good news.
We later see them holding a big celebratory party, which is attended by not only their friends and colleagues but also their two children. While their daughter will soon give them the joy of being grandparents, their son, who is incidentally an aspiring writer, does not bring much cheer to their parents. Joan praises her son’s latest effort, but her son wants to hear any comment from his father above all ease, who does not give much attention to his son’s latest effort while still quite excited about receiving the Nobel Prize.
When Joe and Joan later go to Stockholm along with their son, they are approached by a writer named Nathaniel Bone (Christian Bone), who has tried to write a biography on Joe’s life and career but has not yet gotten any authorization from Joe. Although Joe rudely dismisses him, Bone remains persistent. Not long after she and her husband arrive at a hotel in Stockholm, Joan agrees to spend some time with Bone, but she does not tell him much no matter how much he tries to get her tell anything interesting about her husband and their long relationship.
Through a series of flashback scenes intercut with the main narrative, the movie slowly reveals to us how Joe and Joan’s relationship was developed in the past. In 1958, Joan, played by Annie Starke at this point, was a young aspiring writer studying in a woman’s college, and Joe, played by Harry Lloyd at this point, was a professor teaching her writing class. Although Joe was already married and had a baby with his wife, he and Joan felt strong mutual attraction between them as spending more time together, and he eventually left his wife and child to marry and live with her.
It is apparent that Joan and Joe’s relationship have endured so many things including his frequent acts of infidelity since that point, but their relationship becomes increasingly strained as the time for the award ceremony is approaching. As he is more occupied with his upcoming glory, Joe’s attention is drawn to a young female photographer accompanying her, and it does not take much time for Joan to sense what is going on between her husband and that young woman. Because she prefers to stay outside any spotlight, Joan personally asks her husband not to be thankful to her in public, but, not so surprisingly, her husband disregards her request, and she is not so pleased about that.
What follows next is inevitable to say the least, and Glenn Close, who will probably be Oscar-nominated for her carefully modulated performance here in this film, is simply fabulous to watch. While revealing not much in her guarded appearance at first, Close masterfully implies what has been accumulated inside her character for years, and she is stunning especially when her character resolutely covers up her boiling personal feelings as everyone pays attention to her because of her husband at one point later in the movie.
On the opposite, Jonathan Price, who drew my attention for the first time via his meek hero in “Brazil” (1985), effectively complements Close as her equal acting match. Whenever they share the screen together, we can always feel many years of life between their characters, and I enjoyed how Close and Price effortlessly handle one key scene where their characters swing from one mood to the other one within a few minutes.
The weakness of the adapted screenplay by Jane Anderson, which is based on the novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, mainly lies in its rather superficial handling of its supporting characters. While Christian Slater is stuck in his bland thankless role, Max Irons is under-utilized as Joan and Joe’s sullen, resentful son, and the same thing can be said about Elizabeth McGovern, who briefly appears as a sardonic alumnus who gives young Joan a bitter advice to remember. As young Joan and Joe, Annie Starke and Harry Lloyd hold their own place well, and Starke did a commendable job of being connected well with Close’s performance.
Although it occasionally feels flat and indistinctive under director Björn Runge’s workmanlike direction, but “The Wife” does leave some indelible impression mainly thanks to Close’s restrained but strong performance. Although it has been more than 35 years since she debuted with “The World According to Garp” (1982), she is still one of the best American movie actresses, and she surely demonstrates that to us again here.
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