Film Review: The Wife
An inconsistent drama saved by the performances
The best thing about ‘The Wife’ is that it cast Glenn Close in the titular role. While playing the companion of a successful and often revered author, she embodies the stoic persona like very few actors can. Although the film moves away from the cliché of a supportive woman behind a man, it wouldn’t have been half as good without her. At many points, it fails to reach her level of excellence. Her performance is realized and efficacious even with the simplistic dialogues. However, the narration seems uneven for the most part which makes the film hard to engage throughout.
Based on Meg Wolitzer’s eponymous novel, the film tells the story of Joan who has been married to a successful author, Joe, for over 40 years. He’s about to receive the prestigious Nobel Prize for his contribution in Literature. As a result, he is invited to attend the ceremony with his family. At the ceremony, while his wife’s presence mostly remains unnoticed, he repeatedly reminds his son about his failure as a writer. There’s hardly any sympathy on Joe’s face for the son when he’s relishing his own so-called success. Meanwhile, Nathanial (Christian Slater), a biographer assigned to write about the author, deviously tries to get the inside scoop. It slowly unveils the grudges without completely disclosing them.
The film begins with a scene where Joe learns about his Nobel Prize win. Joan, who picks up the phone from another receiver, doesn’t look particularly stoked by the news. As a wife, she’s supposed to be more cheerful about it. But there’s hardly any emotion. Not because she’s cold-hearted, but there’s a hint of something biting her. One could get an idea about their tumultuous past as a couple, to the point of actually realizing the conflict. As a result, further narration isn’t particularly startling for the audience even when the central relationship slowly starts to break into pieces.
As the plot unfolds, both of them get invited to the ceremony. Every small detail gives a hint of misogyny, which is often regularized as a part of the tradition. While Joe’s out there cherishing the fruits of his success, Joan is offered with the makeup and accessories as if that’s the only thing that satisfies women. Joe introduces her to the other guests, as the woman who always got his back and supported throughout the journey.
The general perception of reducing someone to such outdated morals is apparent. Even in a scene from their past, where she’s told by a senior female author to squander her passion for her own good, speaks for itself. Joan, who feels muted as a result, appears to have a lot hidden underneath. She doesn’t have any reaction even when something bothers her. Thus, her character arc unravels in the form of a ticking bomb, where her eventual outburst is all the narrative aims to reach.
Glenn Close, who remains a silent figure throughout, is immensely effective in her role, with a hint of underlying mental anguish. Their marriage which initiated from Joe’s infidelity had more to with her, getting beguiled by his charm and persona. It peaks back when a similar situation arises with the female photographer appointed for the ceremony. At that time, Joe speaks with a sense of superiority or pride for staying away from his desires about her. Joan’s emotions can’t stay at the bottom of her heart now. The plausible meltdown further, showcases the talents of both the actors to their fullest.
Despite having much to admire for the actual narrative, the dialogue from the film feel largely unimaginative and forgettable. Especially for a literary drama revolving around a Nobel Prize winner, their conversations feel mostly contrived. The dialogues only seem to skim the surface when the characters have so much depth. Not just that, but the film even falters in the transitions between their past and present which take away the authenticity at times. If not for Close’s impeccable turn, the film might not have even been in the discussions.
‘The Wife’ is available to watch now on Netflix India.