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  • Writer's pictureBruce Klein

The Wife: Review

In The Wife question emerges from the film: Can you do too much for the love of your life? The camera pans into the bedroom of a retired couple. They seem happy and playful. The phone rings and Joe Castleman (Johnathan Pryce) learns that he has won a prestigious prize for his literary achievements. He becomes ecstatic but his wife, Joan (Glen Close), holds back. As a wife, she has been a helpmate for her husband for many years. The couple packs for the award ceremony. But the strain is evident by their contrasting reactions. The relationship takes on water.

When they arrive at the award celebration, the wife is dreading the event. Their son David (Max Irons) is there, ultimately looking for elusive approval from his Dad. We get some hint of the family's dysfunction from an intrusive cloying man hoping to write an authorized biography of Joe Castleman.

The script is excellent. The actors have been well-cast and sustain the movie throughout. Glenn Close’s performance is arguably the best of her long, vaunted career. She's blatant and also nuanced throughout. She plays a confident person with integrity and self-worth, but hides her frustrations by pretending to be a dedicated wife who loves and supports her husband, the celebrated author.

The ceremony within the film is elaborate and goes on for days. Joe talks and indulges his appetite throughout. He awkwardly makes a pass at his cute young photographer, which she rejects out of hand. The son fumes at his father and the wife sours. Is it just the proceedings that disturb her? The wife becomes agitated during her husband's acceptance speech. She leaves the banquet abruptly for their hotel room. She is packing. The wife keeps secrets about her husband and their entangled relationship. There's agony to come, culminating in tragedy.

The story is sophisticated. But sadly shows that happiness for them is not an expectation. The Castelmans seem to have everything, and yet enjoy nothing. They are complex, troubled intellectuals. This is a heady film, bursting with scenes portraying the human condition, more bitterness than sweetness. The director, Bjorn Runge (known mostly for his Swedish work) and screenwriter, Jane Anderson (It Could Happen To You, When Billie Beat Bobbie) specialize in family dysfunction. Narrow on its face, my guess is that much of the audience takes personal interest in portrayal of dysfunctional families, scenes quite relatable. So, the movie no doubt resonates with lots of folks.

The plot focuses on the story of a writer of note only in limited circles, one not widely-read with a wide following. Protagonists such as Joe are often the foil in comic movies, not one to take to heart. Many of Joe's devotees would seem to be supercilious, pretending to be what they are not. Such characters as Joe, feeding on the adulation of posers, usually are found out in the end, by others and coming to terms with their shortcomings through self-examination. They get their comeuppance. In The Wife, I kept waiting for Joe’s comeuppance.

He never gets hit hard this way. So, there is no satisfaction for the audience in that regard. Ultimately this is a sad movie. There are no laughs to be had.

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