Glenn Close gives an amazing performance as The Wife, but is that enough to make a good film?
This past fall saw the release of director Björn L. Runge’s The Wife, a compelling drama starring Glenn Close (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Jonathan Pryce (The Man Who Invented Christmas) as Joan and Joe Castleman. The film begins with Joe learning that he’s won the Nobel Prize for literature, and they head to Stockholm for the ceremony and events leading up to him receiving the award. While there, the Castlemans deal with a writer (Christian Slater) who wants to write a biography on their son Joe’s (Max Irons) frustrations over a lack of support for his writing from his father and a secret that they’ve held on to their entire marriage. The film occasionally heads back in time to show a young Joan and Joe played by Annie Starke and Harry Lloyd, respectively.
Since the release of the film, it’s been praised for a career-best performance by Close, and the praise is spot on. This is the type of film that an actor dreams of–one where you can show the depth of your talents and get to really dive deep into a character. And Close dives deep. At the beginning of the film, we see her as this reserved, quiet wife–someone who stands by her husband and supports him, but tries to not get in the way of his work and his fame. But as the film goes on and we see the curtain pulled back, her performance shines like the brightest star you could ever imagine.
There’s a scene between Close and Slater in a bar roughly halfway through the film; it starts with her still holding back, as he tries to convince her that he should be allowed to write a book on her husband. But as the scene progresses, we see her come out of her shell and become this entirely different person–someone who is much more interesting and compelling than anyone else on screen. Not to say that the other characters aren’t good, but this is the point of the film. Joan is an amazing individual who has so much depth and character to her, but she’s been shoved into the shadows for years, and it may finally be time to let her shine in the spotlight.
There are a few great reveals in the film that help open things up even more and really push the film forward, but the film seems to lag at times; without Close’s performance, it would be nearly miserable to watch. Yet, the film feels as if it’s doing all that on purpose, as if it’s telling us, “Yes, this is dull, but this is her life, and there’s more here that is much more interesting and compelling if you pull back the curtains.” No matter what, though, it wouldn’t work without Close’s performance as Joan. She shows a full range here and is able to flip things in a snap and make it believable. There’s a scene where Joan and Joe are fighting, and in the midst of the phone call, they learn that their daughter has given birth. They immediately go into every happy emotion and cry with joy as they learn the news. It’s abrupt and incredibly sudden, but it feels so intensely real.
The reality of the film is something that helps it as well. There’s not much to fake here, as it’s a rather straightforward drama, but every emotion and every decision is played out as realistically as possible. There’s no Hollywood shine to it. It’s all convincing and feels like we’re getting a look into the lives of this couple as they’re facing all of these enormous events. In the end, that’s something that helps the film past Close’s individual performance and makes it something that is still interesting to watch when she’s not on screen.
Overall, The Wife is a great film that is definitely worth the watch. Glenn Close has always been a phenomenal performer and this is definitely one of the best (if not the best) performances she’s ever given. Close is likely to receive an Oscar nomination for her work in the film, and it is incredibly deserved. Pryce and Slater also give great performances that help build Close up, and that’s something that’s always enjoyable when done right. Runge hasn’t done many big films, but I will say, getting a performance like this out of an actress like Close and then surrounding her with actors who build her up in this way is something that isn’t always easy or done as well as this. That alone makes me want to see what Runge does next and who he works with because he knows how to work to an actor’s strengths–and that’s always a good thing.
The Wife is currently playing in select theaters.