Oscar Nominations 2019 – FILM REVIEW: The Wife (2017)

Dir: Bjorn Runge

Nominated for: Best Actress (Glenn Close)

Score: ★☆☆☆☆

During the opening minutes of Bjorn Runge’s The Wife, it’s entirely possible to find your interest peaked. Glenn Close plays Joan Archer who is, yep, you guessed it the wife of world renowned novelist Jonathan Castleman (played by Jonathan Pryce). Seemingly the greatest writer of his generation, he is about to receive the Nobel prize for literature. The film charts their trip to Stockholm to receive the award, whilst an unscrupulous journalist played by a mildly amusing Christian Slater digs up the couple’s past to reveal the origin of the husband’s genius might not be all it’s cracked up to be, as he attempts to woo Glenn Close into revealing her contribution to her husband’s legacy. The story is one that is meant to show the way in which women are marginalised no matter what their real talent level is and that men are able to soak up the adulation of being a genius unchallenged by the perception of society…. but in all honesty I am being generous in attributing that message to this sub par middle aged marital thriller.

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Christian Slater digs for dirt alongside Glenn Close & Jonathan Pryce.

Let’s just clear this up. Glenn Close is great, Jonathan Pryce is Ok-ish, Christian Slater is fine, and everything else is fairly uniformly terrible. The big societal message is boiled down to an exceptionally thin portrayal of the unfolding of personal events between the world’s least realistic or likeable couple. The premise on which the film is built is that Glenn Close’s character was pushed off her rightful path earlier on thanks to a male dominated publishing industry, it comes across as wholly unconvincing as does almost every aspect of this film save Close’s performance. The actor playing the couple’s son inexplicably stomps around like a bratty 14 year old despite being in his 30s, and the flirty photographer character who only exists to add an extra layer of cartoon villain to an already frustratingly one dimensional husband character, is so over the top it’s almost a parody.

Christian-Slater-in-The-Wife
Slater’s prying journo character talks to the poorly conceived character of the couple’s son.

There are numerous flashback scenes throughout the film with the couple played by younger actors. In the case of Glenn Close’s character she is actually played by her own real life daughter Annie Starke. The young husband is played by Harry Lloyd, who has appeared in the like’s of the BBC’s Robin Hood and Dr Who series and is apparently the great -great – great Grandson of Charles Dickens. These segments are downright awful in every way, it’s hard to describe how quickly they sink the film to a new low. At first you wonder what nuances and complexities lie ahead (trying hard not to let too many spoilers loose here, but let’s just say this is essentially a rehash of Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, the trailer probably says enough for you to know the key plot element at work here). You are initially tempted to think what you are about to witness will be a mature intriguing tale about the power dynamics of couples, the ethics of creativity, a statement about gender roles and a tense tale about a couple who have been living a long constructed lie that has spiralled out of all control. However, sadly for the film we quickly find out everyone’s character is as straight forward as they seem to be, so straight forward in fact, you are constantly waiting for the film to wrong foot you and reveal it’s all been a rouse to open up a deeper plot theme. This moment never arrives. By the time the flashback scenes begin you quickly realise all hope is lost. During the film’s final moments where Close and Pryce have it all out and the dark secret, that is obvious from about 10 minutes in (in fairness, maybe it’s purposefully obvious) comes out into the light, the film sets aside a few minutes to actually scratch the surface of some of the complexities of the issues in the lead characters conflict, powered greatly by Close’s superb acting. It’s really the only time in the film anything remotely of interest happens.

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Close excels with her portrayal of barely contained rage.

Glenn Close has been nominated for Best Actress for her performance here. In fact it’s the only Oscar the film has been nominated for full stop. That speaks volumes. While her performance is undeniably very good, maybe even great, the film is so far beneath her talent level it would almost be doing Close a disservice to give her an Academy Award for material like this. I for one hope she gets offered something better off the back of this performance, something more befitting her talents, and more worthy of a Best Actress statuette so she can win it in the next few years participating in something worthwhile. Meanwhile I suggest giving The Wife a wide berth, unless you really, really like Glenn Close or scenes where middle aged couples are unexpectedly awoken from their slumber by young singing flaxen haired Scandinavian girls who are wearing candles on their heads.

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