Movie Review: The Wife

I’m not sure why it took so long to get to Hong Kong but THE WIFE has finally landed on our shores, five months after it opened in Singapore. Once again, Asia’s so-called “World City” (that’s the tagline our government geniuses came up with) has proven once again that we’re anything but.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, THE WIFE tells the story of pre-eminent novelist Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce, TV’s GOT; LISTEN UP PHILIP) and his ever-supportive wife, Joan (Glenn Close, TV’s DAMAGES; 101 DALMATIANS; FATAL ATTRACTION). After the Swedish Academy announces that Joe is their choice to receive that year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, events are set in motion that causes Joan to assess her choices over their 30-plus years of marriage. Emotions, which had been percolating under the surface for so many years, finally boil over on the very night that Joe is bestowed the prestigious award.

A friend who saw the film a few months back told me that she wasn’t crazy about the film but she loved Close’s performance. I would have to agree with that assessment. Ten minutes into the film, you know where the story is going and it doesn’t deviate from that path by one inch. Close, though, is fabulous. Her performance is a master class on the breadth of emotions you can convey with just your eyes. Fortunately, Swedish director Björn Runge (Silver Bear winner DAYBREAK), in his English-language feature debut, makes full use of the actress’ immense talent throughout the film.

But before I get too much into Close’s performance, let me first talk about the story by Jane Anderson (TV miniseries OLIVE KITTERIDGE) based on the novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer. I see a few similarities between the Castlemans and my family but so much still doesn’t ring true. For starters, the couple’s adult son, David (Max Irons, Jeremy’s boy), is brooding because his father hasn’t provided him with any feedback on his first novel. In retaliation, he behaves like a petulant brat. Here’s my advice to the guy: If you think your father is an ass, then don’t go to his ceremony. Or, if you do go, suck it up for a few days and paint a smile on your face. Then have it out with him when you get home. But this is clearly a family that loves to rain on each other’s parades, which now brings me to Joan. At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, I’m going to say that I don’t have a lot of sympathy for her. She knew from as far back as the time when she was Joe’s student at Smith College in the 1950s exactly what kind of person he was. She knew that back then it was virtually impossible for a woman to get published so she decided instead to subjugate her writing ambitions for his and have the kind of life that she dreamed of, which is what she got. But now that he’s reached the pinnacle of success, she is resentful. Yes, the Nobel Prize should have been hers, she even says as much, but why does she react when Joe tells his fellow laureates that Joan is not a writer? I’m sure it’s not the first time she’s heard him say that. She knows he’s an insecure hack who would probably be teaching at a community college if it weren’t for her. At any point in the past 15 years she could have left Joe, and we learn that she would have had plenty of reason to do so, and written a book under her name. She would have been published and there would have two responses from it – either people would say that Joe wrote it or they’d say that she wrote all of his other books. The scrutiny, though, might have derailed Joe’s career. I’m betting she thought of that and all that would entail so she chose to stay and be the devoted, subservient wife instead. I do think she’s entitled to her feelings but, like David, not there and not then. Give Joe his moment in the spotlight then go home, toss him to the curb and write your book under your own name. My beefs about Joan don’t end there though. She allows her child – possibly children – to become embittered rather than come clean to them about their father. Why doesn’t she say to David that she will help him with his book? He knows she can write and deep down he knows she’s a more talented writer than his father. She doesn’t have to write his book but she certainly can give him advice to make it better than it is. Yet David is not angry with her when all the cards are laid out on the table. She’s a co-conspirator but she gets a pass from her family. Again, it doesn’t make her a sympathetic character in my eyes.

Going back to the actress, Close has been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for this role. Will the seventh time be a charm? Unlike some of her fellow actors who finally got their Oscars for less-than-stellar performances (Al Pacino and Jodie Foster, I’m thinking of you), it could be argued quite convincingly that Close deserves to win an Oscar for her performance here. She is what makes THE WIFE worth watching.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, February 15th at 8:30 am HK time!

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