“The Wife” Review

the wife poster The Wife (2018)

There is a saying that behind every successful man there is a woman, and “The Wife” exemplifies this saying like no other film. More often than not, society concerns itself with appearances, and people often only see what the façade presents – be it in relation to a relationship or a family. What is going on behind closed doors or what people may feel inside may be another matter altogether. “The Wife” is just that thought-provoking film that deals with this and other issues. Based on a novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, the movie is about a married couple Joe and Joan Castleman (Jonathan Pryce and Glenn Close) who receive rather exciting news – Joe is to be given a Nobel Prize for Literature. The duo, together with their son David, travel to Stockholm to receive this honour, and while there, both Jo and Joan experience a crisis of faith, and one big secret of their lives comes dangerously close to being unravelled. The film has its faults, but Glenn Close’s performance ensures that the film is sincere and convincing. If the first part of the film is this slightly mysterious story of whether there is something wrong in the happy marriage and the professional lives of Joe and Joan, than the second half is all about unsaid things emerging and letting themselves be known.

The story starts rather interestingly. There is this eccentric genius of a husband, who is a celebrated author, and there is also his devoted wife, who is full of humility and respect when the said husband gets the news that he is to receive the achievement of his lifetime. There is everything to look forward to in their lives: the prestige of the award, and also, later, the birth of their grandson. When Joe and Joan arrive to Stockholm, they are treated with reverence and are immediately introduced to the high society of intellectuals. While Joe starts to enjoy himself, his wife grows more distant. It is at this point that there are subtle signs emerging that there may be something wrong with the whole situation. It takes a great actor to portray subtle disquiet and concern of the character without giving the game away, and Glenn Close is more than up for the task. In some scenes, Close’s facial expressions speak volumes and she alone maintains the necessary intrigue. The story continues and praise pours on Joe, while he simply describes his wife as “the love of my life”. When Joe forgets the name of one of his characters in the book, while having a conversation with his son and Joan, then there is really this feeling that something is happening which should not.

Joan then starts to look back on her younger years when she was a budding writer, meeting a dashing young professor – Joe Castleman. We find out more about Joan, and all the evidence shows that she is a deeper and more intelligent person than first assumed. Was Joan realised as a person with her own unique talent? It is this precise question that poses one Nathanial Bone (Christian Slater), a nosey individual who wants to write a biography on Joe Castleman and his career. It is not long, therefore, before Joan talks to Nathanial, and her husband also finds himself in a company of a younger member of the opposite sex – his photographer.

The second part of “The Wife” is more mundane and even too sentimental in the presentation of the story, but this is also when we got to know “the truth”. The story is no longer so compelling, but, once again, it is the camera on Glenn Close which makes all the difference. Some may say that this film is a star-vehicle for Glenn Close, but there is more fire in the characterisation to say that this is correct. Some superb acting, characterisation and an understated, well-paced direction all make the film a rather good watch. The premise can be compared to “Big Eyes” (2014), and I can also say that I enjoyed “The Wife” in the same way I enjoyed “The Children Act” (2018), with one strong female character at the centre and one distinctive acting work which make the whole movie instantly memorable. Jonathan Pryce’s performance as Joe Castleman is also good, while the beautiful soundtrack fits well with the overall story and presentation.

The Wife” may not be the best film of 2018, but its quiet power is still undeniable and lies largely in its unassuming central character. Joan Castleman is a woman to re-establish herself, including in her own eyes, and the audience will be happy to follow that journey. This is because, even though the story may look like we have seen it all before, at the wheel remains Glenn Close, this year’s Academy Awards Best Actress nominee. Her brilliant, nuanced performance ensures that we will get the inner strength of the central character, as well as her desire for personal happiness, even if that happiness is contrasted with the happiness of the person dearest to herself. 7/10

13 thoughts on ““The Wife” Review

  1. Glenn’s close-up at the end of this film reminded me so much of the final one in Dangerous Liaisons. She managed to convey an entire gamut of emotions without a change of expression in both. She is brilliant.

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  2. Glenn Close is overdue an oscar and I think it’s her time to win. I haven’t watched the film, but from reading your review, the film seems to have a #Metoo vibe in regards to the unfair treatment of women. So an important performance.

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    1. Yes, she would be. From other Best Actress nominees I have only seen Olivia Colman in The Favourite, and that performance was also excellent and in stark contrast to the “quiet” performance of Close. If Close demonstrates her authority in each shot with the quiet demeanour and inner power of her character, Colman’s character is all about voicing her want and authority in public. It is therefore easy “to see” and be impressed with the skill of Colman. And then of course there is also a “hectically” good performance of Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me, it is all difficult to predict.


    1. I have not read synopses to this film or promotions, and even though I knew where the plot was going, it was still interesting for me to discover the extent of Joan’s ambitions and involvement. Therefore, I really appreciated that the film kept it all a bit veiled at the beginning. And yes, Close’s performance was very intelligent, if I can put it that way.

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  3. Excellent film review. No question, if not for Glen Close this movie would have been a disaster. In that way it parallels its subject matter. The wife provides the underpinnings of the relationship. She is the engine of her husband’s success. The husband is so narcissistic that he condescends to her. He goads her (and his heart and arteries) to commit mutiny. If only we could see the narcissistic charm of the husband that drew her into web, it would have been a great movie but that’s probably not Pryce’s fault. I put that on Runge.


    1. Thank you! I am happy talking to you again! You are probably right, the husband’s perspective should have been explored more and Close really elevated this film. I also found the showing of past events and then present again a bit odd since the younger actors playing Joan and Joseph did not really match their older counterparts that well at all.

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