Tuesday Review – The Wife (2017)

films, reviews

the_wife_282017_film295_star_rating_system_3_and_a_half_stars Boy, were there a few surprises during this weekend’s Oscars. I was tempted to write a post about it but decided it would just be another rant about how undeserving Green Book is of the Best Picture title. I mean, seriously? I know Roma is a Netflix film but how can anyone say it wasn’t the best film of this year? It’s fucking madness. Another (sort of) surprising turn of event were the winners of Best Actor and Best Actress category. I loved both Rami Malek and Olivia Colman’s performances and I know they both won at the BAFTAs but I just didn’t trust the voters to let them win. And, after finally seeing The Wife recently, I thought Glenn Close was kind of shoe-in. I mean, without wishing to spoilt the upcoming review, she was fucking breathtaking in that film. And this makes it her 7th time of being passed over. It’s insane and, if I didn’t love Colman quite so much, I’d be outraged. Just be sure that if Gaga had won I’d have genuinely flipped. I’d have demanded the Oscar be taken away and given to Close instead.

The Wife is the film adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel of the same name. Glenn Close plays Joan Castleman who finds herself struggling to deal with the new that her husband, Joseph (Jonathan Pryce), has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Though she initially seems to share her husbands excitement, it becomes clear that Joan is not all oo enthused about Joseph being commended for his work. As she accompanies her husband to Stockholm, Joan is forced to play the overlooked wife of the literary genius and is, at best, patronised or, at worst, ignored by the other winners. Through a series of flashbacks we begin to understand the secrets that lie behind this marriage. Secrets that Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater) is keen to uncover as he researches a biography of the writer.

I wasn’t sure what to think of The Wife straight after I watched it. I suspected that it was a decent film and well made but, at the same time, I wasn’t completely engrossed by the story. I mean, at its most basic level, The Wife is full of awful clichés and a lack of much character development. We see young Joan falling in love with her college professor, Joseph, and starting an affair behind his wife’s back. Joseph is fired from his job when the affair is discovered and the pair settle into an uneasy relationship. It is comfortable but tinged with sadness. Joseph continues to have affairs and Joan chooses to focus on her children instead. So far so familiar, right?

When looked at in this way, it becomes more painfully obvious that The Wife would be nothing without Glenn Close. She is subtle and powerful. Her whole performance builds slowly so you know what the secret is without ever really knowing. It’s incredible. Joan stands behind Joseph throughout so much of his trip and the camera keeps referring back to Close so we can always catch her reactions. Joan is a woman who knows her place so rarely lets her emotions show on her face. However, it is clear to see that something lies underneath than neutral smile. She is a woman with a hidden fire and passion and it’s exciting finding out what that is. It is exciting seeing a performance like this on-screen and, frankly, without it this film would be forgettable.

Although, don’t get me wrong, Johnathan Pryce is on excellent form as Joseph and the scenes in which the pair are together are absolutely incredible. And perhaps another reason for why the flashbacks feel so stale. Neither Harry Lloyd or Annie Starke, who play the pair, are terrible but they lack the presence of the older couple. You want to see Joan and Johnathan in their present day instead of wasting time in their past. The flashbacks just seem to drag the narrative down. It changes the whole pace of the scenes in Stockholm. It feels like a clunky way to tell the story. Because the greatest moments in their relationship are happening during their comfortable later years. During the time that the pair know each other so well. Where Joan is able to see through all of Joseph’s bullshit and bring him back to Earth. When the focus is on the wide-eyed young lover, we miss the fire in Close’s weary matriarch.

I guess, thinking about it, I didn’t hate The Wife but I can see why it didn’t get more attention during award season. It is the amazing performances here that elevate an otherwise tired story that lacks real depth. The emotional pull comes entirely from Glenn Close instead of the narrative. The story lacks a great deal of insight and seems too simplistic. It’s supposed to be a story about writers but it could be about anything. I know the focus is on the marriage but writing is such an important theme you would think it would embrace it more. There is something beautiful about it but, really, this film is what it is because of Glenn Close. And, once again, I’m sad she didn’t get the recognition she deserved.

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