REVIEW / DRAMA
THE WIFE (NC16)
101 minutes/Now showing /3 stars
The story: Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) is a respected writer with a long career. His wife, Joan (Glenn Close) is the perfect mate for a man who lives for his craft: She is devoted to taking care of the things that he does not have time to do, wanting nothing more than to fade into the background. He is due to receive the Nobel prize for Literature. In the days leading to the event, facts about their relationship come to light, none of which neither Joe nor Joan want revealed. It is adapted from the 2003 novel by Meg Wolitzer.
If you have ever wondered what really goes on in the minds of men receiving awards who, in their speeches, blubber on about their wonderful wives, this is the movie for you.
At the heart of this film is a mystery. The sense that there is something amiss in the seemingly rock-solid marriage of a genius and his muse is created artificially, with the director's camera.
It frames the face of Joan, played by Close, during moments when the action is swirling around her infinitely more famous husband, Joe (Pryce).
This drama of secrets held for decades is very much an actors' movie and it is hard to think of anyone who could have done a better job than Close, whose face can convey a mix of emotions all at once: resolve, vulnerability and fear.
That close framing of Joan and a couple of other creative decisions rob this flat, matter-of-fact account of some much-needed ambiguity.
Joan has a secret, a momentous one that threatens to derail her husband's career-topping moment. Swedish director Bjorn Runge, making his English-language debut, is a storyteller who likes to draw a clear line from thought to action.
That is not necessarily a bad thing in a story in which the protagonist, Joan, is largely passive, with much of the conflict taking place inside herself. She takes action only after the intrusion of external factors, caused by hungry biographer-for-hire Bone (Christian Slater) and son David (Max Irons).
But until that dam breaks some time in the middle of the film, Joan is portrayed not as just The Wife, but the perfect wife - the one willing to sacrifice her own aspirations on the altar of her more illustrious husband.
Ultimately, the strong performances help make up for the film's lack of style, but not enough to elevate it from being just okay.