THE WIFE, drama, rated R, Vi­o­let Crown,

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The fam­ily dy­namic is ev­i­dent from the start. Joe Castle­man ( Jonathan Pryce), an ag­ing world-fa­mous nov­el­ist, is boy­ish, vain, and im­pul­sive. Joan (Glenn Close), his wife of 40 years, is ma­ture, self-ef­fac­ing, long­suf­fer­ing, and wise. Throw in their son David (Max Irons, who knows some­thing about be­ing the son of fa­mous fa­ther Jeremy Irons), an as­pir­ing writer who craves his fa­ther’s ap­proval and finds it want­ing, and their daugh­ter Su­san­nah (Alix Wil­ton Re­gan), who is pre­par­ing to de­liver the cou­ple’s first grand­child. Add a No­bel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture, and stir. Joe and Joan are giddy with ju­bi­la­tion, jump­ing up and down like chil­dren on their bed, af­ter Joe learns that he has won the cov­eted prize. This re­flects some­thing of a fam­ily tra­di­tion — a flash­back shows them do­ing the same when he sells his first novel as a young writer.

On the plane to Stock­holm, Joe is ap­proached by Nathaniel Bone (Chris­tian Slater), a writer who’s been af­ter Joe to co­op­er­ate on a bi­og­ra­phy. Joe brushes him off, but Nathaniel is noth­ing if not per­sis­tent, and as he makes in­roads with Joan in Stock­holm, he pro­vides much of the trig­ger mech­a­nism for the flash­back se­quences. Joe and Joan met at Smith Col­lege in the ’50s, when he was a mar­ried young writ­ing in­struc­tor and she was his stu­dent, a promis­ing writer (the young Joan is played ap­peal­ingly by Close’s daugh­ter An­nie Stark, the young Joe by Harry Lloyd).

A lot of this melo­drama, adapted by Jane An­der­son from the novel by Meg Wolitzer and directed by Björn Runge, is both heavy-handed and puz­zlingly un­con­vinc­ing as re­gards its in­sights into a writer’s life. Its main thrust is the lack of re­spect and op­por­tu­nity for a woman in the field, and Joan’s sub­li­ma­tion of her own tal­ent to adopt the role of the Great Man’s Wife. In an early flash­back scene, El­iz­a­beth McGovern has a cameo as an em­bit­tered writer who coun­sels the young Joan to for­get writ­ing, stat­ing, “No­body’s go­ing to read a woman any­way.”

But it is the per­for­mances of its three leads that lift this story from a self-pity­ing potboiler to a film to be reck­oned with. Slater brings a self­aware nu­ance to the role of the would-be bi­og­ra­pher that res­cues it from oily vil­lainy. And Pryce de­liv­ers a Joe Castle­man who is self-cen­tered and needy, and yet has enough rum­pled charm to make the long-term mar­riage cred­i­ble.

But this is Glenn Close’s pic­ture. The re­peated close-ups of her face re­veal many-chap­tered novels of hidden emo­tion play­ing out be­neath a care­fully com­posed sur­face as she en­dures her hus­band’s pec­ca­dil­loes, slights, and fawn­ing trib­utes. It’s a ca­reer per­for­mance, and one that’s al­ready gen­er­at­ing Os­car buzz for this six-time nom­i­nee who’s never landed the prize. The film may not be wor­thy of her, but she makes it worth our while. — Jonathan Richards

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