'The Wife': a he-said, she said film review

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce star in "The Wife."

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce star in "The Wife."


By Marilyn and Tom Jozwik

Published Sept. 4, 2018

“The Good Wife,” based on Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel, stars Glenn Close in the title role. Close plays the longtime spouse of Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), who is notified at the film’s outset that he’s to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Christian Slater, and Jeremy Irons’ son Max, co-star as, respectively, the Nobel  laureate’s smarmy would-be biographer and the Castlemans’ son. An aspiring writer, David Castleman would like nothing better than to follow in his old man’s professional footsteps, but their relationship is an ongoing personality clash of epic proportions. 

HE: I think we’ll have to be particularly careful in summarizing “The Wife.” It’s not a movie with an awful lot happening, yet it is a movie that could be spoiled for a prospective viewer by more than a modicum of plot revelation. 

SHE: I suppose that’s true. Let’s say that Joan, the wife, is an enigmatic character. She appears in the early scenes as a dutiful supporter of her writer husband, the brand new Nobel winner. The family, including son David (their daughter is ready to give birth and so remains home), flies to Stockholm for the award’s presentation. 

Like an onion Joan’s layers are slowly peeled away, until at the end her true thoughts are revealed. 

HE: Enigmatic, yeah. Joan, in a flashback, falls for future husband Joe—her college English professor—virtually at the drop of a hat. She ultimately, decades later, decides to leave him (she may or may not actually do so), but still loves him … despite his history of affairs and everything else. She’s a paragon of devotion to this man, who isn’t totally her man; she abhors rudeness; she strives to keep the peace between her husband and her son. Yet she certainly participated in the breakup of Joe’s first marriage and family and, in Joe, she married a jerk and she has lived a lie—and continues to live it till movie’s end. This selfless woman is no saint; how good, really, is this good wife? Enigmatic! 

SHE: Lots of pieces don’t seem to fit; instead they’re like square pegs forced into round holes. Joan is clearly smitten by Joe, evidenced by the way she lovingly touches everything that belongs to him when she babysits for him and his wife (who are in the throes of a horrible marriage). Joe is smitten by her and her amazing literary gifts. She loves him, but has little regard for his writing (“Your characters are wooden … Your dialogue is stilted”). Yet, Joan is concerned early on that there is no future for her as a writer. The film reminds me of “Big Eyes,” another film in which a talented female artist needs a man to “front” for her in order to make it big. 

HE: Interesting analogy. Elements of “The Wife” made me recall a previous movie, too: its worst father/son confrontation put me in mind of “QB VII,” a 1970s TV film based on a Leon Uris’ novel. And a Joe/Joan skirmish evoked Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” to some extent. 

I might add that I really liked Pryce’s performance because he made me really hate his character. I thought Close was excellent as well; like Meryl Streep, she’s not afraid to, you might say, act her age. I was happy for Slater’s periodic appearances. He was quite credible. Young Irons was watchable as well. 

SHE: The relationship between Joan and Joe was quite complex. Joan at some points seems satisfied with it, but at other times is simmering with some deep-seated resentment, which we learn near the end. I agree with the comparison to Meryl Streep. A wonderful performance that I think is Oscar-worthy. I liked, too, how at times her character is out of focus, as if she herself is feeling invisible at those times. It is an interesting character study with a backdrop of the Nobel ceremonies, which added a layer of interest, especially concerning how recipients are treated. 

HE: The production values weren’t always the greatest—I’m thinking of a couple of shots of what seemed to be a toy airplane. But the musical score was … the term “hauntingly lovely” comes to mind. 

SHE: To summarize, the acting was quite good, overall, and the story, such as it was, was told in a compelling manner. I too liked the music. I would give “The Wife” a B. 

HE: I would say B- . It stopped short of actually striking a blow for feminism. Which is unfortunate.