The silly takeaway from this film is that winning the Nobel Prize for Literature seems pretty lame. A life’s work given the greatest nod of approval is essentially a jet lag poisoned trip where you’re bothered by intruding sycophants the whole time. That would be the silly take, but not a false one. The Wife is directed by Bjorn L Runge, and is based on the novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer. It’s about, unsurprisingly, a wife, played by Glenn Close, who is questioning her life choices after her husband (Jonathan Pryce) wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. They travel to Stockholm, so that he can receive the award, and with them is their son (Max Irons) – a struggling writer, living in his father’s shadow. Creeping behind them, desperate to write the prize winners biography, is Christian Slater’s Nathaniel Bone, a man poking the fire for a story.
From the beginning, Joan’s (Glenn Close) struggle is recognisable. It’s a burning resentment that is not a new thing in her life, you can see it in her eyes. And at first it’s a simple notion of being pushed to the background, seen as the leaning post for the genius husband. It’s not jealousy, but melancholy for years spent being a crutch and a kiss on the cheek as she passes through the study. This is what I was expecting for the rest of the film, and almost sitting in sympathy for Pryce’s character also. He’s a brilliant writer, a proud father, and a loving husband – he shouldn’t feel guilt for his wife’s underlying un-fulfilment? His level on the scumbag scale and the faults of the characters is something you should discover on your own, and the discoveries work.
Seldom do plot developments enhance the complexities of characters, however The Wife is a film where they do. Suddenly the father/son relationship is in a far deeper mess – beyond seeking fatherly approval, or an attempt to disconnect nepotism. So go see the film, and enjoy this weight of revelation that the director throws at you. And Lunge is careful with his projectiles, holding them off until the right moment, coming as trebuchet rocks destroying a castle when they arrive. The use of that purple metaphor is because the film certainly has its big moments – Oscar screams they could be described as. Thankfully the performances are superb, and the explosions are engaging because of them. What can I say about Glenn Close that hasn’t already been said? This performance is a game of repulsively beautiful 3D chess, a jump on an elevator to different floors in Hotel Psyche. To quote the film: “She brings out the stillness and the noise.” The STILLNESS and the NOISE, the RISING ANXIETY and the VOMIT OF EMOTION. She’s terrific, and when she takes best female actor at the Academy Awards I’ll be watching in glee. Pryce tackles her well, and on a character level is not a serious match for the tranquillity of Joan, or his disturbed son – something Pryce nails, where he presents those sad inadequacies. Special mention to Christian Slater, who was probably thrilled at the opportunity to do some actual acting, something he’s quite skilled at.
So what comes of this slow rise to a satisfying denouement? A nuanced experience, softly photographed and precisely written. Screenwriter Jane Anderson converts the novel to be a full frontal message, which is impactful despite its lack of thematic ambiguity. In fact, scratch that, the film manages to be both transparent and open-ended, due to a final interaction between Slater and Close. If you can’t tell, I loved the movie, and connected to it a great deal. The flashback scenes of young love, competitiveness, inefficiency and some hopelessness hit close to home, and give a sense to the history of the characters. It’s one of those where the players have more to tell, and have more going on between the scenes that we never see. Watch the film to see an attentive director capture the essence of human relationships through brilliant acting, and hopefully the film will stay with you when the point of the film becomes crystal clear.
Worth the price of a cinema ticket?
Yes, fuck Venom, and go to your smaller cinema and catch this before its run ends.
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