- Movie Rating -

The Wife (2019)

| February 17, 2019

For more than 30 years Joan been behind her husband at every turn.  She fusses about minor details, about when it is time to eat, when it is time for his medication, where his glasses are and what the doctor said about stretching his legs.  Yet, she doesn’t go about these things in the manner of a happy homemaker.  Joan is supportive of her husband, the celebrated author Joseph Castleman but under the surface boils a long-standing resentment that will soon be uncorked.

Joe and Joan do not a have a visibly happy union.  Oh, they love each other, but there is a sense of persistent homegrown aggravation floating between them.  She doesn’t smile lovingly at him, or give him the subtle words of encouragement that we expect.  For three decades he’s been a celebrated fiction writer and she has been by his side.  Now, his moment has come, he is receiving the Nobel Prize for literature and as they travel to Sweden for the ceremony, Joan begins to question the journey that she has taken with him.  And soon all that bottled up tension will rear its ugly head.

The process of unspooling all that tension rests in the greatest performance of Glenn Close’s distinguished career.  It is a very physical performance, not so much in words but in expression and inner turmoil, three decades of repression and resentment hiding just under the surface even when she smiles and tries to play the role of the proud wife.  There is an expectation that we have as Joe meets the luminaries that are celebrating him, an expectation that just over his shoulder she will be beaming with pride.  Not so.  The most unexpected thing about Joan is her unwillingness to play the part, to fit the role that her husband’s career has laid out for her.  On her face is the expression of a lifetime of holding back and sacrificing her own potential while bolstering his.

In the hands of a lesser screenwriter, The Wife might have come off as just another sometimes-its-hard-to-be-a-woman trope, a downspout of hack-strung Sylvia Plath-style overtures that grouse about the evil that men do without form or purpose.  But The Wife was written by the very talented Jane Anderson,who previously wrote and directed the grossly underappreciated 2005 drama The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.  There, we appreciate the pluck and dedication of a shackled 1950s housewife played by Julianne Moore who uses her resources to overcome the dire poverty that is threatened by her husband whose drinks up his paychecks.

Here the personal stakes are much more severe as Joan deals with decades of repressive artistic expression.  Gender politics have largely kept her away from the ability to express herself on the page.  When Joe tells someone at a party, “She’s not a writer.”  It stings Joan in a way that seems to rattle her to the very core.

What happens at the end of the movie I will not reveal only to say that it closes on a perfect note, perhaps bitter but oddly justified.  Again, the movie lies largely in Glenn Close’s expressive face.  All that she feels, all that has been hidden, all that has been prepressed exists right there in her eyes and in the corners of her lips.  It’s a pain that only decades could bring about and it makes the last shot of the movie a warm and bittersweet relief.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2018) View IMDB Filed in: Drama