4 out of 5 stars.
In her acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Drama at the Golden Globe Awards, Glenn Close stated that she believed the film she won for—“The Wife”—took so long to get made because it was called “The Wife.” But however long it took for the movie based on Meg Wolitzer’s novel to finally make it to theaters, it is more timely than ever, as it subverts the expectations thrust on the role of housewife while exploring the toxic masculinity that can throw barriers in women’s paths.
Close plays the title role of Joan Archer, who has been married to her husband Joseph (Jonathan Pryce) for about 30 years. Joseph is a celebrated author, and one morning in 1992 they receive the news that Joseph is being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Initially ecstatic, they travel to Stockholm for the ceremony, but their relationship gradually unravels as Joan reflects on her life and why they are there in the first place.
Occasional flashbacks to the late 50s and 60s reveal the beginning of Joan and Joseph’s relationship (their younger counterparts are played by Annie Starke and Harry Lloyd, respectively) but the bulk of the film belongs to Close. The film itself (which is directed by Bjorn Runge, with an adapted screenplay by Jane Anderson) is fairly typical. The story of an oppressed woman has been told before, but it’s Close’s performance and how Joan slowly, almost imperceptibly, unravels that make it stand out. And even though you may think you know this story (in many ways it isn’t too far off from another 2018 film, “Colette”), it’s better to know very little about it going in. After the film ends, you can view Joan’s reactions to things early in the film in an entirely different light—her excitement over Joseph winning the Nobel Prize, or her strained graciousness declining an invitation to shop or go to the spa while her husband goes about his duties as the Nobel winner. It’s subtle, but Close’s performance, along with the script, build enough tension and suspense so that when the climax occurs, it does feel like her character has been heading in that direction all along.
Pryce deserves a lot of praise for his performance as well, making his character both delightful and despicable. Together, he and Close make a perfectly believable married couple, from the little spats to the small moments of joy and love to the devastating fight at the end. The cast also includes Max Irons as Joan and Joseph’s adult son David, an aspiring writer desperate for his father’s approval. Elizabeth McGovern plays a struggling author in a flashback sequence with young Joan, while Christian Slater plays Nathaniel, the annoying biographer trailing Joseph in the hope that he will let him pen his biography.
“The Wife” throws some mixed signals at the viewer toward the end of the movie, but whether you agree with Joan’s actions or want her to be even more outraged, it’s hard not to respect her dignified conduct, especially during the story’s tougher moments. The script is solid and often witty, but just look at Close’s face during the Nobel ceremony. She shows you all you need to know.
Runtime: 100 minutes. Rated R.