For The Love Of Words

The Wife 
Stars: Glenn Close, Annie Starke, Jonathan Pryce, Harry Lloyd, Christian Slater, Max Irons, Elizabeth McGovern and Alix Wilton Regan
Director: Bjorn Runge
Scriptwriter: Jane Anderson based on “The Wife” by Meg Wolitzer
Composer: Jocelyn Pook
Cinematography: Ulf Brantas
Sony Picture Classics
Rating: R with mature themes
Running Length: 100 Minutes
Now Out on DVD 

It is the beginning of autumn and the countdown to Oscar nominations looms on the horizon. “The Wife” will be an entry, I’m sure, for acting and for the script. Acting for Annie Starke, who portrays a younger version of the main character, Joan. Acting for Glenn Close who portrays the older, mature Joan, and Best Adapted Script for Jane Anderson’s script which shows that the love of the written word can have power you wouldn’t believe. Addicted to words and writing? It can happen. 

The story of the marriage between Professor Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) and his wife Joan (Close) is what centers the film. Their children are David, a budding writer (Max Irons) and daughter Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan) who is expecting the first grandchild. It is the 1990’s.  Joe is a world-famous writer and has just received word that he won the Noble Prize for Literature, therefore must travel to Stockholm for the award. He is elated, but the camera centers on the face of his wife, Joan, who is stoic and walks through life two steps behind him, as silent as a statue. This annoys their son, David, who can’t get a decent comment from his father about his own writing. The fly in the ointment is Nathaniel (Christian Slater), who wants to do Joe’s biography and becomes an irritant in their lives, especially for Joan. As the award ceremony nears, we see that Joe has an eye for the ladies, Joan looks in the other direction, and Nathaniel thinks he has enough material for a book.  If only he could get Joan to break down and talk, she is silence personified. In the meantime, through flashbacks, we see how Joe and Joan got together in college days, and how immature he was and still is. Why does she put up with this? It is, sometimes, like being with a five-year-old child. 

The setting of Sweden with lush hotels and the ceremonies of world-wide awards gives us the background for people who live in the spotlight---and those who don’t. We see that woman are delegated to the background and at social events, the ladies make eye contact with each other that speaks volumes. “I would really like to be somewhere else, but he needs me….”  Men are shown to be domineering and regard women in the workplace as serving coffee while the guys manage everything else.  In the Castleman household, Joan emotionally props up Joe and his ego comes first.  As the years pass, Joe becomes a famous writer with name in the spotlight, while Joan is home with the children. However, they don’t remember her being there that much. 

When two people marry, is it always for love, or can it be that one partner can give the other partner something not attainable, otherwise. This can be seen in various cultures besides here. The idea of a woman’s place being in the home can mean something else where talent is concerned, the home being the place of creativity instead of boredom. How many times have you been to a concert or even in a church, and seeing the man of the family sitting there proudly with his family, taking the credit for various projects, doting on the children, while the wife sits there, a smile for every occasion and wishing she were somewhere else. After all, who props up the husband when he has a failure at work, or can’t get his speech right, or tie his own tie. And the husband who obsesses over his wife who can’t go into the kitchen for a cup of tea without him calling after her, “Where are you?” A lifetime of this is what some women sign up for, but then some women have a breaking point and that is part of the story in “The Wife.”  Joan has a breaking point. 

Glenn Close as Joan gives a stone-faced performance, with only the faintest show of emotion at times. She is so used to following behind Joe, she knows people don’t know she is there. Watch the eyebrow slightly raise or the tone of voice lower a bit. Will her mask crack? Or not. Body language speaks a lot in this film and with Joan it is close to the body, while Joe prefers to be the center of attention.  

The film is told in flashbacks, so *Annie Starke plays the younger Joan while Harry Lloyd ("Wolf Hall") is the younger Joe. They are creative in their roles and the transition between the younger and the mature actors is well done. The younger Joan is shy and falls for Joe right away. It is when Joan begins to do her own writing and finds her talent noticed only within a small group, that a subtle change takes place.  Once again, facial expressions and body language mean a great deal. 

Jonathan Pryce would not have been my first choice for the older Joe. Harrison Ford or Donald Sutherland could have handled this role well, too.  The scruffy beard on Joe stopped his facial expressions from being seen well, whereas Joan’s close-cropped hair lets us see her face full-on.  Christian Slater projects untrustworthy from the first time we see him. He wants a top story so bad he can taste it. There is one member of the family, though, who is a master player and then, who is playing who? 

“The Wife” slowly puts a scenario before the audience and lets you see how these people resolve issues. What is the glue that holds this marriage together? 

*Annie Starke is actress Glenn Close's daughter. Wouldn't that be something to have two Oscar nominations from the same family? 


Copyright 2019 Marie Asner