The Wife Movie Review
The odd thing about expectations is that often they’re wrong. Take The Wife, a drama that came and went from theaters without so much as a whimper. The word was that Glenn Close delivers such a fantastic performance that she should be considered the frontrunner for an Oscar, but the movie itself was just whatever.
In reality, Close is really good—but not breathtakingly good (damn you, expectations!)—while the movie itself is, surprisingly, rather enthralling (thank you, low expectations!).
Close plays the wife of a famous novelist (Jonathan Pryce) who is being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. While all of the attention is on him, the illustrious award sends his family into a spiral, bringing long-simmering tension to a boil.
Close is excellent as she navigates a challenging role that constantly evolves as the story unfolds. Her character is full of surprises but Close discloses them with nuance and restraint, the pain her character feels only fleeting in her eyes before being repressed into the dark recesses of the mind and heart.
She operates with terrific chemistry with Pryce, who is just as delicious to watch as she is. Pryce slithers through the film with an icky confidence and conceit that hints at darker secrets, a villain who really isn’t a villain as much as he is a husband who is unwilling to atone for his sins. The scenes in which Close and Pryce dance their Devil’s dance with another make the movie hum.
The story itself, brought to life by director Bjorn Runge and screenwriter Jane Anderson, based on the book by Meg Wolitzer, is a fascinating one. You could just as easily see it unfold on stage, its methodical plot slowly shedding layers until all that remains is raw emotion.
Unfortunately, The Wife does get away from itself a bit in the end, the big reveal perhaps so astonishing (and ultimately predictable) that it feels like a cheap escape from something much more interesting and complex. It would have been more interesting to see the story explore the blurry gray area between the two lead characters rather than pivot so suddenly to one over the other.
The Wife also suffers ever so slightly when Close or Pryce aren’t the center of attention. The flashbacks are fine, but they comes across as lesser material, filler to flesh out the film’s already taut 100-minute runtime. The son, played by Max Irons, also barely exists as a standalone character than he does a plot device to throw everything into chaos. Whether the fault lays in Irons or the screenplay it’s hard to tell, but Irons appears out of his league when on camera with two heavyweight actors delivering heavyweight performances.
On the flipside, Christian Slater’s small role is sharp and conniving—even if he two primarily exists to stir bad blood rather than serve as a truly defined individual.
The Wife isn’t perfect but it’s a satisfyingly smart and immersive drama. Glenn Close is great, but compared to expectations it’s the movie itself that will be remembered years from now, not her performance.
Well, by the few people who ever end up watching this movie.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.