Directed by: Björn Runge
Premise: A distinguished author and his wife (Jonathan Pryce and Glenn Close) travel to Stockholm to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature. While passing through the ceremonies and press events, simmering tensions in their marriage boil over.
What Works: The Wife is a smart drama about marriage but also about the complicated nature of collaboration and authorship as well as the status of women in literature. The film opens with author Joe Castleman and his wife Joan receiving notification that he has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The narrative then alternates between the couple’s trip to Stockholm and flashbacks to the early years of their marriage and the creation of Joe’s books. It’s gradually revealed that she had much to do with the success of his books and the issues of authorship and the nature of marriage and parenthood dovetail into one another quite effectively; this is a film about the compromises people make in relationships, both creative and domestic, and how those compromises might be asymmetrical between partners. Those compromises aren’t so simple in The Wife. The filmmakers embrace the complexity and that is evident throughout Glenn Close’s performance in the title role. Close is terrific in The Wife. She has big acting moments when everything finally comes pouring out but those moments are doubly effective because we can see the tension percolating throughout her performance. She’s paired with Jonathan Pryce who is also quite good and Pryce embodies the visage of the conceited and pretentious literary figure. The struggle in their marriage is a microcosm of bigger conflicts within literature in which women’s contributions have been marginalized or ignored and the film makes its point without grandstanding.
What Doesn’t: The one disappointing aspect of The Wife is the ending. The story builds terrifically to its climax, forcing the couple and their family to a crisis point but then the filmmakers undermine all of that with a copout of an ending. The groundwork for the final twist is set throughout the story so it doesn’t entirely come out of nowhere but it is clearly intended to resolve everything neatly and wrap up the movie. The Wife is such a good, smart, intricate, and complex film that finishing it this way betrays the material.
DVD extras: Interviews and featurettes.
Bottom Line: Despite its rushed ending, The Wife is a smart and complex film with a terrific central performance by Glenn Close. Virtually everything in this story fits together and it offers a lot that is worth reflecting upon once the movie is over.
Episode: #736 (February 3, 2019)