Audrey Kupferberg: The Wife

Oct 19, 2018

So many movies and TV shows are about husband/wife relationships. From the madcap antics of Laurel and Hardy and I LOVE LUCY and the sweetly sentimental comedy of FATHER OF THE BRIDE to Cassavetes’ A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE and Bergman’s SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, the husband and wife relationship has been one of the most often depicted partnerships on the silver screen. 

With so many depictions of marriage, the new film THE WIFE manages to bring a rare story of a husband and wife—one that is particularly heartwrenching in the current gender-sensitive environment.  In THE WIFE, one of our most brilliant actresses, Glenn Close, plays Joan Castleman, the devoted spouse of Joe Castleman, a world-famous novelist who has just won the Nobel Prize.  Joe, played by the greatly respected British actor Jonathan Pryce, has led a life of admiration and success.  Novel after novel have been received with thanks by an adoring public.  His, it is said, is a singular voice worthy of international praise. 

Both Castlemans have reached an age where introspection and analysis are due.  Joe is such an important man that a biographer, played by Christian Slater, has been offered a contract to put his life into book form.  Joan, on the other hand, is not a famous literary personality, just a once-promising student of Joe’s who is a loyal appendage of her husband… somewhat more than a functionary who might provide juicy anecdotes for the biography to increase sales. 

THE WIFE centers on the Castlemans’ stay in Stockholm where Joe is hailed as a literary genius and Joan is paid respect as the loving and supportive wife of a literary genius.  While there, Joan begins to face up to the truth of her life with Joe. This has been a marriage based on infidelities and deep secrets.  This has been a 20th century upper-middle-class American marriage based on love, as well as plenty of compromise.  The success of the Castlemans through their four-decade long marriage may have gained them a family, a beautiful home, a wardrobe of designer clothing, and a certain warmth of companionship.  Still, something isn’t right with the Castlemans, and this vague discomfort is at the heart of the gradually unfolding plot. A theme running with subtlety through the story is that people sometimes make unspeakable, unfair deals with themselves in order to obtain the lifestyles they crave.

The screenplay is as high quality as the acting.  Not for a moment does the dialog become hackneyed.  Not for a moment does the story become stale, anticipated, or even reminiscent of past films.  Swedish director Bjorn Runge is responsible for creating an atmosphere of growing tension that never becomes melodramatic or highly suspenseful.  This is not a suspense film; rather, it’s an exploration of a longtime intimate relationship – one with flaws. 

The high emotions and disclosures come mainly from Joan, and so Glenn Close has a good number of opportunities to display her dazzling acting style.  After six Academy Award nominations for roles in ALBERT NOBBS, DANGEROUS LIAISONS, FATAL ATTRACTION, THE NATURAL, THE BIG CHILL, and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, she finally may have an Oscar as a result of this performance.  THE WIFE is based on a novel by Meg Wolitzer, who may not have won a Nobel Prize for Literature, but she is a highly respected New York Times bestselling author.