By Steven Sheehan.
Glenn Close has enjoyed an illustrious career to date on both the big and small screen. One thing that has surprisingly eluded her so far is recognition at the Oscars.
From bunny boiler (Fatal Attraction) to transgender butler (Albert Nobbs), Close’s acting prowess has never waned. Because her level has never dropped her talent is somewhat taken for granted by many.
However, early Oscar buzz this year suggests that after 6 nominations she could be in with another shot. The Wife is a film dependent on her strong performance and true to form she doesn’t disappoint.
The Wife is an adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel of the same name. Although the longer it continues, the more it feels like it should exist on a theatre stage.
Set in 1992 it introduces us to acclaimed author Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). The wife in question is Joan (Close), who has seen her husband rise from novice writer to soon-to-be Nobel Prize winner for literature.
As a couple, they seem as solid as a rock but the signs of Joan’s deep-seated unhappiness can be seen early on in her eyes. But there’s an award to be collected and they head over to Sweden with their grown-up son David (Max Irons) in tow.
An Unsatisfying Affair
Flashbacks put meat on the bone of Joe and Joan’s relationship. We learn he was once her professor at university. She was a writer with real promise deterred by a male-dominated industry and he was married with a child.
Their coupledom began as an affair and it has been a reoccurring pattern for Joe ever since. Joan always forgave him for his cheating. But gradually it has chipped away at her love for him.
Also in Stockholm is Christian Slater’s sleazy Nathaniel. He is Joe’s unofficial biographer hanging around to stir the pot and pick up juicy tidbits about his past. Once settled in Sweden the subplots slowly unravel as the ceremony begins to draw closer.
Added to all of this, his son David is also an aspiring writer seeking approval he never receives from his father. Joe also has a dodgy ticker yet continues to stuff his face with fatty foods. You can guess what happens next.
There’s a secret both Joe and Joan are keeping secret from everyone. We slowly learn what it is but, by the time the characters discuss it, it lacks the impact it should have on the story.
The relationship dynamic between Close and Pryce feels totally believable. Their exchanges as a couple sound like two people who have spent decades together. They bicker and fight but there is an affection for each other neither can escape.
Close shows Joan’s resentment with a small look or pursed-lip smile. They are tiny, nuanced movements that reveal a lot about her inner thoughts without saying a word.
An Oscar-Worthy Performance?
What lets the film down is a ridiculous script that brings too much together into one event. Which is a shame as The Wife addresses feminist themes that feel particularly ripe in the current climate.
You could imagine the film being played out on stage and it would definitely feel more at home there. Whether this will earn Close another Oscar nomination remains to be seen but she is head and shoulders above everyone else as usual.
The Wife is released in UK cinemas on Friday 28th September.