Movie Review: The Wife

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce shine in this film about a troubled literary marriage.

By Max Weiss | August 31, 2018, 1:52 pm

-Sony Classics

Movie Review: The Wife

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce shine in this film about a troubled literary marriage.

By Max Weiss | August 31, 2018, 1:52 pm

-Sony Classics

Sometimes we can be grateful for a film simply because it gives two great actors a chance to sink their teeth into some seriously meaty material. Such is the case with The Wife, directed by Björn Runge and based on the Meg Wolitzer novel of the same name.

The actors in this case are Glenn Close, whose penetrating stare and patrician beauty have rarely been used to better effect, and Jonathan Pryce, wonderfully illustrating a certain kind of preening and self-serving male narcissism.

As the film begins, the aging novelist Joe Castleman (Pryce) is tossing and turning, hoping for a call from the Nobel Prize committee. Tellingly, he initiates sex with his wife, Joan (Close), not because she’s interested—she’s sleeping—but to distract his jangling nerves. Generously, albeit grudgingly—Joan’s default state, in many ways—she obliges.

The phone rings. It’s Sweden. Castleman asks if his wife can get on the other line and we watch something peculiar cross over her face—resentment? anger?— as she hears the news that her husband is receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. As for Castleman, he can’t hide his elation, encouraging his wife to jump up and down on the bed with him, like a giddy child.

Castleman, who makes a big show in public of feigning modesty and abashment, assumes that Joan will be as excited about this honor as he is, but she’s clearly not. She’s cautious, reticent. At a hastily assembled cocktail party/press conference the next day he lavishes his wife with praise, calling her his muse, saying he’d be nowhere without her. Again, she looks more disgusted than delighted.

Later, she hisses: “I don’t want to be thought of as the long-suffering wife.”

The couple makes their way to Sweden, now accompanied by their sad sack adult son (Max Irons), an aspiring writer who seeks approbation from his father that he never receives (instead, Joe refers to his son’s short stories as “good starts.”)

Also lurking somewhat ominously around the edges is a writer (Christian Slater) who has been commissioned to pen a tell-all biography on Castleman. Certainly, Castleman’s many and notorious affairs will be part of the narrative, but what else?

The film gives us clues by way of flashbacks to when Joe and Joan met at Smith College in the 1960s. The younger Joe, played by Harry Lloyd (who, distractingly, looks nothing like Pryce), was a creative writing professor; Joan (Annie Starke, better cast) was his talented and smitten pupil. So is that it? Did Joan sacrifice her dreams as a writer to support his? Or is there more here than meets the eye?

Among its other virtues, The Wife gives you pretty good idea of what it’s like to receive a Nobel Prize—lots of cocktail parties, photo ops, and bowing, basically. But it’s essentially a chamber piece about a marriage—and family—filled with secrets, lies, and resentments. For sure, the lies here are whoppers. But Close and Pryce give performances complex enough to allow us to believe that Joe and Joan have a marriage not unlike many others. That is to say, they love—and hate—each other with equal devotion.

Meet The Author

Max Weiss is the editor-in-chief of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.

You May Also Like

Arts & Culture

Cult Classic

John Waters shares highlights from his upcoming Baltimore Museum of Art retrospective.

Arts District

True Laurels Hits the Airwaves

Lawrence Burney’s new weekly radio show launches tonight.

Charmed Life

Baltimore Musician Hunter Hooligan Debuts Song at New York Fashion Week

"Pink" served as the soundtrack to designer Stevie Boi's rose-tinted vision.

Arts & Culture

Your Go-To Guide For the 2018 Fall Arts Season

Don't miss these fall arts events in film, literature, art, theater, music, and more.

Arts District

Culture Club: Fluid Movement, Surf Music Showcase, and Art/Sound/Now

Our monthly roundup of openings, events, and news from the art world.

Food & Drink

Fair Play

The Maryland State Fair sticks to its agricultural roots while adapting to the modern times.

Connect With Us

Most Read

Maryland Film Festival's Jed Dietz to Retire: Dietz shepherded the growth of the festival and the launch of the Parkway Theatre.

Gundalow Juice Stops Production to Focus on Catering Services: CEO and founder Dana Sicko discusses the next chapter with Gundalow Gourmet.

Baltimore Police Mounted Unit to Add Horses and State-of-the-Art Stable: City officials broke ground on $2.5 million stable at B&O Railroad Museum.

Governor Larry Hogan Tops Ben Jealous by 22 Points in New Poll: More than half of likely voters say they support the incumbent Republican governor.

Are the Orioles and Adam Jones Headed For a Bad Breakup?: Fan favorite benched again last night as forgettable season nears end.