The Wife (R) ★★★½

‘The Wife’-Sony Classic Pictures

Glen Close Gives the Performance of a Lifetime

The dramatic film, “The Wife,” conjures’ up a range of emotions: sympathy, disgust, shock, and ultimately validation. Beginning with a late night call from Sweden, an elderly Joseph (Jonathan Pryce) receives the news he’s won the Noble Prize in Literature. Director Bjorn Runge works from a script by Jane Anderson, based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer; we view Laura (Glen Close), and Joseph Castleman’s strained marriage kept afloat due to his impressive and longstanding literary success, leading to the pinnacle: the Nobel Prize. What should be a joyous occasion—turns into an opportunity for Laura’s bottled-up feelings to erupt—similar to an inactive volcano. In this excellent drama, Glen Close gives the best portrayal of her career.

In the early beginnings; she’s a college student, played amazingly by Close’s daughter Annie Starke, and he, an arrogant professor. Joseph’s married during this time, but that doesn’t stop him from seducing his student Laura, and in a matter of time Joe leaves his wife and child to marry the gifted writer Laura.

At first, Laura merely edits Joe’s work, however, after seeing so many downfalls, she spells it out to him. She says, “This isn’t real, I’m not feeling a connection. Joe, upset, gives his wife the green light to rewrite most of the novel. When the publisher reads the novel, the praise is glowing. Laura becomes satisfied as a ghostwriter—until, Joe begins to take advantage of her—having affairs on the side that he later confesses to Laura. The pain and hurt drive Laura deeper into writing, she transposes her aching heart to the page. The novels are extremely well received—a viscous, secretive cycle begins.

This scenario is close to the historically 50s based film “Big Eyes” in which a woman Margaret Keane, played by Amy Adams painted the portraits of people with large eyes yet due to her egotistical husband’s intense need to be in the limelight, she takes a backseat. Joe blatantly took all of the credit in “The Wife,” as in the 50s, a gifted woman writer would not receive the acclaim she deserves. A telling scene occurs, early in Laura’s marriage days, during a book signing a sloshed writer Elaine Mozell played by Elizabeth McGovern warns Laura, “Don’t be a writer, no one will read your work because you are a woman, a writer needs to be read, and as a woman writer no one will take you seriously.”

Upon arrival in Stockholm, Joan’s silence during the adulation thrown her husband’s way is noticeable. By merely, raising an eyebrow, we know her disapproval for the young, pretty guide that will be shadowing Joe for her magazine’s interview. Of course, he’s opening flirting with her.

Once behind closed doors in their lavish suite, Joan tells him, “I don’t want to be thought of as the long-suffering wife”—as Joe seeks for her opinion regarding his acceptance speech. He disagrees, we know as a narcissist he’s going to say what he pleases. An uncomfortable scene to be sure—although that’s only a small snippet of what’s to come.

Christian Slater, (Nathaniel Bone) a hack biography writer sees through their charade, victoriously gaining access to Joan so he can write a tell-all about their lives. When Joe dismisses him, Joan suggests he should be heard out, in an uncharacteristic move Joan meets Bone for cigarettes and vodka. He spills his suspicions as Joan replies, “Please don’t paint me as a victim. I’m much more interesting than that.”

While narrative for other characters isn’t as strong, as in Joan’s son David played by Max Irons, Joan’s subtle nuances are front and center. With six Oscar nominations, one would hope it’s now Glen Close’s turn.

The Bottom-line: Glen Close’s Laura paints a portrait for talented women that are a product of their times, who miraculously stand their ground.

Sarah Knight Adamson© October 30, 2018