The Wife from director Bjorn Runge features an impassioned, Oscar-worthy performance from Glenn Close. Jonathan Pryce, Max Irons and Christian Slater co-star.
I wish I could simply say “go see this movie,” but that would be doing The Wife a disservice. Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Meg Wollitzer, The Wife features Glenn Close in the titular role of Joan Castleman. Her husband, novelist Joe Castleman has just been notified that he’s won the Nobel Prize in Literature, a great honor for any mere writer.
As the call progresses, congratulating Joe, there is a cascade of emotions on Joan’s face, indicating a less-than-celebratory mood. Yet, after the call is completed, she returns to the celebration between husband and wife. After all, this is something that Joe has been working towards his whole life.
Bjorn Runge’s direction paints two different pictures in this opening scene: one of jubilation over recognition the likes of which are reserved for royalty the other, repressed feelings of resentment. Ms. Close’s emotional range in the opening minutes is just a small sampling of what’s to come in The Wife, but it sets the stage for what is one of the best performances I’ve seen all year.
Though the story focuses on Joe’s whirlwind experience in the ultimate recognition of one’s work, Runge smartly puts Close in a minimal position so as not to arouse our suspicions of the true nature of this story, allowing the tension to build naturally.
Joe is a proud and stubborn man: he showers his pregnant daughter, Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan) with love when she arrives to congratulate him. On the other hand, he practically ignores his son David’s (Max Irons) pleas for a critique of his first manuscript despite his bringing a box of expensive cigars to celebrate the occasion.
Once the festivities die down and they are whisked away to Stockholm, the repressed feelings of resentment start to unravel, but not before a biographer, Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater) manages to get his claws in to Joan. Like her husband before her she rebukes Nathaniel, but he finally finds a way into their story.
Runge’s use of the camera is as much a character as the subjects they capture. Emmy-nominated cinematographer Ulf Brantas (Generation Kill) used the camera to capture not only the emotions on each character, but the struggle of each character to come to terms with their own struggles.
One of my favorite scenes in The Wife is when Joe, Joan and David are in a limo, the windows are frosted obscuring the passing world as they have one of their heated arguments.
In the close quarters of the limo, David is just slightly out of focus as Joe lectures him for the umpteenth time; Joan is also clearly in focus, but she’s decided to sit this argument out, until David’s temper gets too crowded for the limo. As the argument ensues, the focus subtly shifts between the foreground and the background, helping to convey the tension between parents who really don’t know their son and a son desperately trying to break through.
The structure of the story shifts between the present and their past where we learn more about Joan. The script by the award winning Jane Anderson (Mad Men) uses the shifts between past and present to build Joe and Joan into fuller characters. The script is designed to allow us to take the journey with the characters, not be mere observers. Lena Dahlberg’s editing is absolutely on point, creating the right emotional punches to convey a woman’s repressed journey.
I should have seen the ending of the film coming, but it still takes you by surprise. This is the hallmark of outstanding performances from Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce along with Bjorn Runge’s stellar direction.
The Wife is now in theaters and has been rated R by the MPAA.