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The Wife

September 23, 2018

The Wife (2018)
Director: Björn Runge
Actors: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater

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Synopsis: Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) is the loyal wife of veteran novelist, Joe (Jonathan Pryce). Over a series of days while Joe and Joan are in Stockholm to see Joe collect the Nobel Prize for Literature, long-repressed secrets start to surface over Joan’s role in not only propping up their marriage but her husband’s literary career too.

Review: The malignancy and narcissism of high-end patriarchy does need dramatising, and I suspect in the coming months and years as the legacy of #metoo in Hollywood starts to trickle through, we’ll get more film narratives deconstructing that culture. This attempt, however, to pit a saintly, long-suffering wife against a venerated but far less intelligent or morally admirable husband is far too contrived, soapy and one-eyed to be taken seriously as any kind of rigorous probing of the injustices of a patriarchal world.

The two obvious flaws with The Wife are that its ideological purpose is too singular and unnuanced, and the dramatic tapestry therefore constructed to reveal that intent is risibly prescriptive and telegraphed. The subgenre of the paternal literary genius and the legacy it has on those around him has been done a lot better in works by the likes of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach (perhaps the messiness of comedy is the best way to probe at the truth of this phenomenon), but Jane Anderson’s screenplay engineers things far too rhetorically. There’s the absolute cliché of a dissatisfied son who can never win his father’s approval; Anderson’s script cannot resist from feeding us this dialectic at every single stage of Max Irons’ (who plays the son) surly time on camera. Even more laughable is the conceit of a young attractive Swedish photographer who tracks every stage of Jonathan Pryce’s literary stalwart’s time in Stockholm. It’s so unrealistic and preposterous, and just seems like a really lazy and tacky device designed to give Pryce’s character the sleaze effect as he so easily succumbs to the flattery that this woman’s beauty and fawning camera represent.

Glenn Close’s long-suffering wife reminisces (through the help of really didactic flashbacks) about the origin of her relationship with her husband, and this enables us to discover that – (massive plot spoiler) wouldn’t you just know it – she is largely responsible for her husband’s literary success as she has ghost-written and fine-tuned her husband’s usually gauche first drafts. That’s all well and fine as a dialectic, but the film never really justifies why she would rebel against this fact only now, when she has presumably been complicit in and profiting from this ‘arrangement’ for over 40 years, other than the film simply needing this would-be act of epiphany and rebellion to happen for its shallow politicking. The narrative would have been more truthful had Close’s character had a faint, inner moment of regret at her own weakness and fallibility, but the fact she goes berserk at the Nobel Prize dinner and that Pryce’s character is so rampantly narcissistic and villainous in completely basking in the fruits of what was evidently their shared work makes it a very sophomoric and unsophisticated drama. I take it that it’s always been harder for women to get published than men, but this is set in the second half of the 20th century, not the first half of the 19th century! Glenn Close’s inherently compelling and almost mysterious face gets ogled on in numerous close-ups, but without the dramaturgy to justify this iconography, it’s just empty aesthetic – much like the film itself. (September 2018)

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 13, 2019 11:13 pm

    Excellent review! You nailed it by locating the principal weakness (among many!) in noting that the wife never expresses “regret at her own weakness.”

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