The Wife

Glenn Close got an Oscar nomination in her first movie, The World According to Garp. It’s my favorite film of all time. T.S. Garp (Robin Williams) is a terrific writer, but his books don’t sell. His mom (Close, who was only 4 years older than Williams in real life) ends up writing a book about sex and how men are pigs — and it sells a billion copies.

In this movie, Close plays a terrific writer (her daughter in real life is playing her in flashbacks), but when she’s told her books won’t sell because she’s a woman…she puts that aside to be the supportive wife. Her husband (Jonathan Pryce) is the writer in the family, and he’s just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. So it’s off to Sweden to collect the price, and reveal some family secrets.

Close got five more Oscar nominations after Garp, and I guarantee this will be her sixth nomination and possibly her first win. It’s a tour de force for her, and her facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission in this slow burn. There are times she has a strained smile, that’s implying she both loves her husband, is happy for his success, but also livid that she’s being treated like the other wives of these academics at a dinner party. Especially when she’s asked if she writes and he’s quick to say she doesn’t. We know she used to, and quite well. It’s one of the things that attracted the college professor to her (probably not the main thing).

Swedish director Bjorn Runge does a great job with the material, but it’s safe to say, the performances are a lot better than the script. As some of the events were playing out in the movie, I wasn’t buying it all. I can’t explain that without giving stuff away, and none of it really hurt my overall experience watching the movie. It’s has a terrific payoff. There was a time that I thought this was the type of movie the overrated 45 Years should’ve been. It’s so powerful to watch a married couple that’s older, and having problems, when you can feel that they really do love each other (or at least did at one time).

The couple flies to Stockholm for the awards ceremony, and their son David (Max Irons, son of Jeremy) comes along. He’s a bit bothered by the fact that his writing career isn’t taking off, and that his father hasn’t bothered to read his short story (or at least, give his critique of it). The petulance of the son was a bit goofy and distracting. That needed to be toned down a notch. Another character I initially thought should have been toned down, but was actually played wonderfully, was biographer Nathaniel Bone (which would totally be my porn name). He’s played by Christian Slater. It’s just the fact that he always has a sinister looking face, and the fact that he reveals a few things, it would’ve worked better if we didn’t suspect him of being a tabloid-type journalist. Yet another character that didn’t quite work for me, was novelist Elaine Mozell (Elizabeth McGovern). She plays a talented writer who sternly tells Joan she should give up her dreams of writing because the literary world only cares about what men have to say. Well…Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Agatha Christie and Sylvia Plath would have something to say about that. Again, that’s a small complaint.

Another small complaint I have is how David acts from the start of their courtship. The way he’s always leaning into her, and his bizarre flirting. And when they start to see each other, how unbearably sullen and mean he is. I get the fact that she loves him and is willing to put up with that (and it was at a time when more women were willing to overlook overbearing men in their lives), but it seems by about 1975, she would’ve kicked him to the curb, and been fine on her own.

The movie should’ve better captured what it’s like to write. Submission (Stanley Tucci) did that wonderfully earlier this year, as did The World According to Garp. It was needed here.

All that being said, it was a great film. The couple I brought with me loved it, too. We talked about it all the way to our cars, and again the next day.

It had two scenes late in the movie, that are among the best scenes on film all year. One of those involves a speech by the narcissistic husband, with the camera showing the wife’s face after each thing he says. It’ll be the scene they show the clip of at the Oscars.

The other scene is when a character takes the high road. It reminded me of the scene at the end of The Edge (Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin), where Hopkins character does a press conference praising Baldwin for saving him from a bear, even knowing he had been carrying on with his wife. There’s something about a character being nice to somebody that’s scum, that’s just so powerful.

3 ½ stars out of 5. It gets an extra half a star for the son giving his dad a box of maduro cigars. Best gift ever.