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Wife, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/25/18 00:09:59

"Writing Wrongs"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

The only thing that is more agonizing to watch than a standard-issue Oscar bait movie—the kind that seems to have been crafted for the sole purpose of winning awards—is one featuring someone who should by all rights already possess an Oscar or two and who is now turning up in increasingly blatant trophy bids in the hopes of finally getting the prize. Having already tried and failed along those lines with the fairly embarrassing “Albert Nobbs,” Glenn Close once again tries to avoid going down as this generation’s Deborah Kerr with the drama “The Wife” and while it is a little better than “Albert Nobbs”—though not that much better—it still reeks a little too much of desperation for its own good.

She plays Joan, the wife of Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), a celebrated author who, as the film opens, has just won the Nobel Prize for literature for a body of work that has pretty much redefined the art of writing for generations to come. On the surface, Joe seems friendly enough but he is one of those Type A personalities who cannot stand it unless the attention in any room is focused entirely on him—even when he praises Joan during a speech at a party, he spends more time talking about himself than her. Once they land in Oslo and reach their opulent hotel room, the cracks in their seemingly ideal marriage begin to show—a sexy photographer serves as a reminder of Joe’s lifelong aversion to marital fidelity (he and Joan met when she was a student and he was her married professor) and his refusal to discuss the short story written by his aspiring writer son (Max Irons) confirms his incredible ego. All the pressure finally gets to Joan and she at long last forces a confrontation with Joe about a particularly devastating secret in their lives that she can no longer bear to live with.

Ostensibly based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer, “The Wife” feels more like an issue of “The New Yorker” that struggles to come to life, only to eventually collapse and die in a spasm of well-mannered embarrassment. It seems like a film tailor-made for the #MeToo era but there is little to it that would have seemed out of place in a Fifties-era soap opera. The screenplay by Jane Anderson starts off on an interesting note but gets increasingly contrived as more unnecessary subplots (including one featuring Christian Slater as Joe’s sleazy would-be biographer who lurks around the sidelines and tries to exploit Joan’s frustration at her husband in order to get juicy tidbits for his book) are heaped on to clutter a narrative that would have been perfectly fine sticking solely to Joan and Joe confronting their lives and lies. The direction by Bjorn Runge is so listless that you never get any sense that there is a human intellect guiding the material—it feels as if it was directed by an artificial intelligence system that knows how to put a movie together but not how to make it work on the kind of emotional level that a story like this needs to achieve in order to succeed. You always get the sense that you are being told a story and not a particular compelling one at that—even when the big dramatic revelations finally begin to detonate, they are so anti-climactic that they barely register.

The biggest problem with “The Wife” is that whenever Close is on the screen—which is most of the time—she reveals the rest of the film for the hollow and contrived nonsense that it is throughout. She cuts through all of the surrounding crap and manages to transform Joan into a real character instead of just another walking collection of cliches. Even when you cannot believe what is going on around her, you always believe in her character thanks to the fierce determination she brings to her depiction of a long-simmering rage that has finally and irrevocably boiled over. As bad as the rest of the movie is, hers is a performance that is definitely worth consideration, though if this turned out to be the one to win a long-overdue prize to commemorate her career, it would probably be the most embarrassing one of that sort to come along since Al Pacino triumphed with, of all things, “Scent of a Woman."

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