Time: 100 Minutes
Age Rating: Offensive language & sexual references
Glenn Close as Joan Castleman
Annie Starke as young Joan Castleman
Jonathan Pryce as Professor Joseph Castleman
Harry Lloyd as young Joseph Castleman
Christian Slater as Nathaniel Bone
Max Irons as David Castleman
Elizabeth McGovern as Elaine Mozell
Director: Björn Runge
Joan (Glenn Close) and Joe (Jonathan Pryce) remain complements after nearly 40 years of marriage. Where Joe is casual, Joan is elegant. Where Joe is vain, Joan is self-effacing. And where Joe enjoys his very public role as the great American novelist, Joan pours her considerable intellect, grace, charm and diplomacy into the private role of a great man’s wife. As Joe is about to be awarded the Nobel Prize for his acclaimed and prolific body of work, Joan starts to think about the shared compromises, secrets and betrayals.
I hadn’t been looking forward to watching The Wife. It seemed like yet another one of those bland awards movies that only get attention because of one performance and the plot didn’t seem interesting in the slightest. Even the title was uninteresting. The only reason I watched The Wife honestly was because of the awards attention towards Glenn Close’s performance, and it was pretty much what I thought it would be. Not bad but nothing much more than above average, with the acting being really the only good part of the whole movie.
The Wife as a story just really wasn’t all that impressive. When I say that the trailer pretty much covers the extent of where the plot goes, I really mean it. I don’t mean it in as the trailer showed too much, it gives the basic idea of the movie (as it should) but the plot doesn’t really become much more than that. There are plenty of movies about a husband taking credit for the wife’s work (see Colette and Big Eyes) but The Wife seems to just be about that basic idea and nothing more. It has nothing else to offer, there is nothing different about this story from others to make it interesting. The third act is when it is when it picks up, because that’s when Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce directly address the issue and get into conflicts about it and we really get to see their dynamic and then it becomes interesting. While the idea is teased earlier on, the only time that the two characters deal with it head on is near the end of the movie. If it even started halfway through it would’ve kept my attention longer. Instead we have to wait for like 80 minutes of them beating around the bush. Even just the writing itself wasn’t all that great. The dialogue can be pretty on the nose and cliched, and some of the things that happen can be contrived and coincidental at times, an example involving a flight attendant on a plane earlier in the movie. On top of that, the story just wasn’t all that interesting and was rather dull. Again, picks up in the third act but throughout the rest of the movie I was completely uninvested. The script wasn’t terrible but was generally lacklustre until the third act.
The one thing that makes the movie better than average is the performances but I feel like even they feel somewhat held back by both the writing and direction. Their best acting moments mostly consist of them having ‘big acting moments’ (you know what I’m meaning), not that the acting is bad, it’s just that at times it feels like there are moments allocated for each actor to go really big with their acting. I’m not even sure if I’ve seen a movie with Glenn Close in it before (aside from Guardians of the Galaxy) but she was really good here. I don’t think she’s as spectacular as some people have been making her out to be and I have seen better lead actress performances last year, but she was still quite good. To be fair to her, she also does have some subtle acting moments as it builds up to the third act, and that third act is where she goes full force with her performance and just unleashes everything she has. Jonathan Pryce was also surprisingly great as the husband, given that when it came to this movie the only positive thing I heard about was relating to Glenn Close. Pryce also deserves some praise as well for his performance. Max Irons is decent enough as their son and Christian Slater is good as a biographer/journalist who is prying into the lives of the lead characters. Annie Starke (the daughter of Glenn Close by the way) and Harry Lloyd were also good as the younger versions of the lead characters.
Usually I don’t have much to say about the direction when it comes to these types of Oscar movies, usually it was competent enough and there’s not much to say about it. This time it’s different, not because it’s spectacular, quite the opposite really. Apparently Björn Runge has directed some things before, I’ve not seen his other work but his direction of The Wife is quite average really. Even with a script which isn’t great, it still could’ve been spiced things up to make it a little more interesting. There is no style whatsoever when it comes to the direction, it’s very blandly directed and all in all is rather subpar. The only thing I could say that was done well with regards to the technical elements was that the locations were pretty good.
The Wife doesn’t have much to offer outside of the performances. The direction is really bland and the writing doesn’t offer much of interest until the third act. It’s just the acting elevating things slightly, with Glenn Close of course having the spotlight. If you want to see what all the fuss about Glenn Close’s performance for awards season, then I guess you could watch The Wife. It’s not bad or anything, just not really that good either.