The Wife review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
It’s astounding how time and family can greatly reshape our bitterness with ourselves. There’s a perfect moment that encapsulates this within The Wife. An aged couple has a fight about infidelity that has been brewing for years that grinds to a stunning halt when they receive a phone call that a baby has been born in the family. Shouting and rage quickly turns to tears and smiles as the two appreciate how they’ve come. It’s this very human nature that makes this film such an intoxicating journey of how complicated life can become, carrying all the bitterness of the past.
Glenn Close plays Joan Castleman, an aged wife of the high-profile author Professor Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). He has been writing a long time and is overjoyed to hear in the middle of the night that he has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Joan is happy as well but there’s an uneasy sensation she can’t shake. As we learn slowly in flashbacks, Joseph hasn’t been the writer of his many revered novels; it was Joan the whole time. Having gotten involved with Joseph since her early days of writing as a student, Joan has devoted her life to writing novels for her husband. They had a child, David, but Joseph mostly handled the son on his own while Joan was given plenty of time to write. Her mind lingers. Would she have won the prize if her work was published under her name? Would her grown son (Max Irons) not be so distant had she been there more for her? These are all thoughts that haunt her constantly, especially with a nosy reporter (Christian Slater) hounding her and drudging up her messy history.
There’s a lot of fine performances but Close holds the picture together. This is not just for the scenes where she explodes on her husband for his constant cheating but also for scenes where she boils quietly, letting the regret and anger stew within her unsure eyes and a subtly nervous twitch. There are a handful of flashbacks that make her plight more clear as the picture progresses but it’s really Close’s performance that says it all. Her constant shifting of trying to be a wife, mother, and woman with desires for more is a battle of her own that is being waged more within herself than that of her husband. It’s also a tragic fight when considering how little control she seems to have over her destiny. The slightest shifting of the winds in her favor usually sweeps her back by one confounding issue or another with her family.
What’s most tragic about such a fantastic performance is how we can see these muddled aspects within ourselves, where standing up for yourself when you feel you’ve been wronged for years is not simple as one triumphant speech. Joan never gets that moment. She comes close but it always seems out of grasp from a personal aspect. She could ditch her husband how much would she be throwing away? Would her son be worse? Would she live a lesser life? More questions than swirl in her mind while attending dinner parties and ceremonies where she’s exceptionally uncomfortable.
The Wife latches onto the heart and keeps squeezing with an uncomfortable and intriguing bit of drama that asks many tough questions with no easy answers. There’s a lot of questioning of the film’s many philosophies about the nature of writing and convenience marriages. But for Close’s performance alone, the eyes remain fixed on a character we want to see come out of her shell. She may not but we want to see it, keeping a close eye on what she’ll do next.