The Wife (2017)

BJORN RUNGE

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB.  //USA, 2017.  , , , , .  Screenplay by based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by . Academy Awards 2018. Independent Spirit Awards 2018.    Toronto International Film Festival 2017.  Golden Globe Awards 2018.

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce in The Wife. Close was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance.

Celebrated author and his wife are unable to sleep for anticipation of the phone call that is to come, and early in the morning, it does: Pryce is informed that he has been selected to win the Nobel Prize for literature, and the two of them are so ecstatic that they jump on the bed for joy.  They are immediately flummoxed with well-wishers and congratulations, including a celebratory reception that is quickly followed by the trip to Sweden and the days of rituals and functions leading up to the main ceremony.  Through these days we observe as Close, happily accompanying her much revered husband, does her best to avoid the stereotypes of the long-suffering wife, at first happy to keep him company during the physically grueling schedule that receiving the prize requires of him, while trying to put to bed the ongoing antagonistic relationship him between him and their son ( with an unconvincing accent) that just won’t quit.  Fending off any suggestion of her own personal sacrifice, to the point that she even requests not to be mentioned in his acceptance speech, eventually isolates Close and puts her into a reflective mood of remembering her days at college when she first met her husband, when he was teaching her English class and she was a creative writing student of great promise.  The revelation that these memories lead to, which include a fabulous cameo by , transform what was already a riveting and beautifully acted rumination on the effect of artistic success on people’s personal lives into a fantastic look at the choices that we make, regarding not just our work but our feelings about sharing it with the outside world.  Skillfully directed and photographed, the film is a rewarding opportunity to see Close at the height of her abilities, for while she rules the screen in the moments that demand her well known brand of scene-chewing fury, watching her quietly observe the clash of egos happening around her is fascinating.  It’s the richest film role she has had in years, allowing her the opportunity to do such great, cagey work responding from behind a high wall when being quizzed by , excellent as a sycophantic biographer with more than his fair share of secrets about the couple, then tear the boundaries down in her private moments with Pryce.  The rapturous (but not surprising) pleasure of seeing her dominate the screen so beautifully is matched by an elegant and captivating performance by (Close’s real-life daughter) as her younger counterpart in the flashback scenes; Starke’s moments with as the young Pryce almost bring this film to an Iris-worthy level of plot-twinning, and the immense talent she shows in her few moments will hopefully take her to a notable career of her own.  A few of the dramatic elements in the film falter, the foreshadowing of Pryce gorging on fatty treats is straight out of an introductory screenplay class, and Irons’ character, despite his best efforts, never rises above a cliche, but these points do little to ruin the satisfaction with which the film leaves you.

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