Her and Only Her - The Wife
There’s a certain irony to a movie about literature being as poorly written as this one. Its characters are thin, its narrative is forced and there are any number of confounding choices made. What saves it from being a complete disaster, however, is that Glenn Close is electric—throughout, she feels seconds from igniting and gives the story its only real bite. The rest of the characters only serve to further her narrative, which is not nearly as compelling as the movie seems to think. Its revelations are telegraphed like rushed passes from a bad high school quarterback, but it somehow still manages to entertain. That it does so is a testament only to Glenn Close’s talents. Everyone else deserves major side-eye for expecting us to buy that this is their best effort.
The Wife is adapted from a novel by Meg Wolitzer and tells the story of a husband and wife—Joe (played by Jonathan Price) and Joan (played by Glenn Close)—on their way to Stockholm for the husband to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. The pair have been married for decades and Joan is now questioning choices she made along the way. When the movie begins, we meet the couples son (played by Max Irons) and daughter (played by Alix Wilton Regan). The daughter is very much pregnant, so she stays behind, but the son, an aspiring writer, travels with his parents to see his father win the prestigious award.
Once in Stockholm, Joe is assigned an attractive young photographer who shadows him throughout the movie. He is also being trailed by Nathaniel Bone (played by Christian Slater), a writer hoping to get Joe’s authorization to write his biography. Throughout the film, Nathaniel pops up in an effort to get at the truth behind Joe’s writing, which is largely pulled from events in the couple’s life together. As Joan struggles to make sense of her mixed feelings about Joe’s career achievement, everyone must do their best to keep it together.
Okay, so I left one big thing out of that synopsis. Joan wrote the books. Of course she did. Why else would she be so sour about attending this once in a lifetime event? The movie seems to think that this is an M. Night Shyamalan level reveal, but after watching the trailer, I had imagined this would be something we’d find out in the first 5 mins. It’s not. The movie takes a full hour to reveal this and acts like the drama around the revelation is enough for a 100 min. movie. Spoiler alert: it is not.
Christian Slater’s character seems ever-forced into the story as a lazy vehicle to move it along. Whenever he appears, we learn more about who they are as people, but in a way that feels cheap. The Castlemans have a multi-decade relationship that is inherently fraught with complications. Here, those complications are reduced to convenient subplots involving these otherwise disposable characters. Why was he the only of the honorees with a photographer? Because the story needed you to understand that he is a philanderer and give Joan a reason to explode. Why is Nathaniel Bone so intent on writing this biography? Because the story needs a way to let information drip in. Nothing here feels organic.
The lone bright spot in this mess of fiction is Glenn Close’s stellar performance. This is one of the finest examples of a wonderful performance in a so-so movie. Close proves that she can shine regardless of what her co-workers contribute to the effort. This is yet another solid entry in a storied career that has so far not resulted in any Oscar wins. This could be the one that changes that, but even if it isn’t, she should be proud to have made this otherwise forgettable movie into something that’s at least worth potentially checking out.
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