Jon Frosch LIKE A bomb ticking towards detonation, Glenn Close commands the centre of The Wife: still, formidable and impossible to look away from.
Playing the devoted wife of a celebrated novelist (Jonathan Pryce) and the keeper of his deepest, darkest secret, the actress gives one of the richest, most riveting and complicated performances of her career. Close is so extraordinary – at once charming and inscrutable, alternately warm and withering, tender but full of contained fury – that she lifts an otherwise ordinary movie; thanks to her, the film’s slightly on-the-nose satire of the literary world and its somewhat familiar portrait of a problematic marriage take on a gnawing urgency.
Directed by Swedish filmmaker Bjorn Runge (Daybreak) and adapted by Jane Anderson from Meg Wolitzer’s novel, The Wife opens in 1992. Joe and Joan Castleman are in their Connecticut home trying, and failing, to fall asleep. The reason for their restlessness: Joe has been tipped to win the Nobel Prize in literature and they’re hoping for an early-morning call from the committee.
As they toss and turn, teasing each other and fooling around, the film establishes the ticklish, exasperated intimacy of a happily long-married couple.
The phone rings: Joe has won the Nobel. At a party to celebrate the news, Joe’s agent informs the Castlemans that a major magazine is “bumping a story about Bill Clinton” to make room for a piece on Joe. The mention of the Clinton name is hardly incidental.
Razor-sharp, disciplined and stoic (she barely flinches at Joe’s affairs), Joan is above all the dutiful guardian of her husband’s “brand” – and reminiscent of a certain presidential candidate who struggled to free herself from the shackles of her husband’s stature (and ego).
Close keeps you on your toes despite the film’s conventionality. She makes the character sympathetic but never saintly. When Joan finally lets it rip, voicing a lifetime’s worth of pentup frustration, Close adds notes of guilt and conflictedness to her angry aria.
She never shies away from the idea that, in a way, this is the story of a woman waking up to her own internalised misogyny; to the way she has enabled her subjugation.
Whether or not it’s too late for Joan Castleman is something the film wisely never reveals. – The Hollywood Reporter
DEVOTED WIFE: Glenn Close