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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Aug 14, 2018

The Wife Movie Review: Well Acted Domestic Drama About A Patient Wife And The Sacrifices She Makes For Her Husband

WE’RE SURE you’ve heard of the saying that “behind every great man is a woman”. “The Wife” tells the story of one such woman, Joan Castleman (Glenn Close), the better half of a famous writer, Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), who’s about to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The film is adapted from the 2003 novel by Meg Wolitzer and Glenn Close fans are hoping she’ll get another chance at the Oscar for her title-role performance here. Glenn is a latecomer as a movie actress as she started on stage. She was already 35 when she first acted on the big screen in “The World According to Garp” in 1982 for which she was nominated as Oscar best supporting actress.

She has won both the Tony and Emmy Awards several times. She’s been an Oscar nominee six times, three for best actress and three for best supporting actress. We personally like her performances in “Fatal Attraction” and “Dangerous Liaisons”, but she has never won. Let’s see if she’d be luckier this time with “The Wife”.

The film is set in 1992 when Joe received word that he’s been chosen as the recipient of the Nobel prize for literature. As they celebrate with their friends, Joe is no doubt the center of attention while Joan willfully stays in the sidelight, even when her husband is thanking her profusely for her contributions to his body of work. They have two kids. Their daughter is about to give birth to their first grandchild while their son, David (Max Irons, son of Jeremy), is sulking because he has many issues with his father who doesn’t seem to approve of his own works as a writer. Joan tries her best to maintain peace between her husband and her son.

On the flight to Stockholm, Sweden to get his prize, Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), a slimy writer who stalks them to get Joe’s approval to write his biography, pushes his way to them to congratulate Joe. He is shooed away but he seems determined to prove something about the Castlemans. In Stockholm, they are introduced to a pretty female photographer who’s assigned to document the event. Joe is obviously flirting with her and this is the first time we have an inkling that Joan is aware of his indiscretions.

In flashbacks, we see how their relationship started in 1958. The young Joan (played by Annie Starke, who’s Glenn Close’s daughter in real life) is a student of Joe (Harry Lloyd), a charismatic writing professor who tells her she shows much promise a writer. Joe is already married and has a child. She agrees to babysit for him and his wife, but at the same time flirting with him and submitting to him a short story, “The Faculty Wife”.

Soon, forbidden romance blooms between Joan and Joe and later flashbacks show them already married to each other. Joan has decided to put her own writing career in the back burner because women writers are seldom given a good break in a male-dominated field. This is affirmed by ELizabeth McGovern as a bitter female author who tells her to give up whatever ambitions she might has as a writer. So instead of cultivating her own career, she chooses to be the wind beneath Joe’s wings. And we eventually learn about the secret to Joe’s success as an author.

Things between the older Joan and Joe get from bad to worse in the course of the film. Director Bjorn Runge succeeds in getting good performances not only from the wife but also the husband, successful portraying not just a marriage but a professional partnership that can only be understood when you’re one of the parties involved.

At the start, Joan is just the affectionate and patient wife who is happy to live in her husband’s shadow, preferring anonymity, organizing her husband’s schedules and reminding him of his diet and regular medications. She dislikes any praise saying she’s Joe’s muse and the reason why he’s very successful.

But eventually, her discontent surfaces after a long talk with Nathaniel Bone who seems to know a lot of details about her and Joe’s past that they would prefer not to be revealed. Joan is then forced to take a long hard look at the regrets and resentments that have accumulated in her life and non-existent writing career.

Glenn Close gives a seething, simmering performance as the self-effacing wife and many women can relate to her quiet rage. This early, she’s attracting awards buzz and she truly deserves it. As Joan, she is used to staying in the sidelights while Joe makes a spectacle of his love for her in front of other people but not really attributing proper credit where it is due.

Instead, he offers her regular back massage to appease her. But the culmination of her experiences results into a late-life crisis and an epiphany of where she actually is and what is yet to come for her, to be her true best self and not just defined by the reflection of somebody else.

Jonathan Pryce is similarly splendid as the self-centered writer who’s used to getting a lot of praise. There’s an unsettling moment when he doesn’t recognize the name of one of his own characters, but Joan does, thus giving their son David reason to confirm what he’s been suspecting all along. Christian Slater is also believable in his shamelessness as the intrusive and dangerous Nathaniel with his own hidden agenda.

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