With a mouthful of vodka and lips around her first cigarette in decades, Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) tells biographer Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), "Please don't paint me as a victim, I am much more interesting than that." Based on the Meg Wolitzer novel of the same name and directed with a sensation of strangling intimacy by Swedish filmmaker Bjorn Runge, The Wife is a compelling drama serving as a vehicle for a career-high performance by the six-time Academy Award nominated Glenn Close. It opens areawide on Friday.
Taking place in 1992 with a few flashbacks to the late 1950s (with early Joan played by Close's remarkably talented, doppelganger daughter Annie Starke), the movie centers on Joan's husband Joe (the fantastic Jonathan Pryce), who's just been notified he's the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. Joe is overwhelmed with joy, while Joan expresses her excitement in a smile that feels both warm and completely disengaged. The two travel with their son to Stockholm for the ceremony, and something is noticeably and tangibly off about Joan. It's the greatest honor her husband could ever achieve, and her focus is on staying out of the public eye and playing the doting wife by making sure her husband remembers things like reading glasses, medication and his daily schedule.
With the exception of the psychological drama Regeneration, Pryce has never really had his "leading man" moment. He fortunately nabs what is also the role of his career as the overbearing, charismatic and wholly unlikable Joe, turning a character leaking of toxic masculinity into something compelling and mesmerizing.
Every moment and every movement of Close's performance is meticulous and calculated. In a flashback, we learn that Joan was once an incredibly promising writer, herself a former student of Joe's at Smith College. However, the late '50s weren't an ideal time for women writing during a time where publishing houses, critics and marketing companies were all run by men with little to no interest in differing perspectives or literary voices. Joan seemingly abandoned her dreams to become the unnervingly calm, stoic wife she presents herself as today.
The Wife serves as an examination of the consequences of unchecked male privilege and the archaic gender politics that have influenced the decision making and sacrifices made by women of older generations. It also examines the painful existence of women conditioned to live their lives as the quiet "woman behind the man."
After 40 years of sacrificing her talent and dreams to help her husband rise to great success, 40 years of enduring infidelities rooted in softboy artistic insecurities, and 40 years of hiding a secret that would shake the foundation of their world, Joan has had enough.
She says it herself when she explains, "There's nothing more dangerous than a writer whose feelings have been hurt."