Film & Television

Glenn Close is Riveting (and Oscar-Worthy)
as ‘The Wife’

My brother, who has worked backstage on Broadway for several years, has a friend who is a handsome African-American actor with some solid theater credits to his name. When he left New York in the 1990s to pursue a film career, he found that the roles he might be right for weren’t available. The percentage of greenlit films with a “Denzel Washington-type” lead was so small that Washington himself could fill every one.

The same challenge has faced the industry’s older actresses. Hollywood produces only a limited number of movies each year with starring roles for women over 60. It seems that Meryl Streep is automatically cast and automatically receives yet another Oscar nomination for each one. This is by no means a condemnation of  Streep’s prodigious talent. Instead, it’s an observation (verging on a condemnation) about appropriate leading roles that are in too short supply for other fine actresses.

Like Glenn Close.

Close had a successful stage career before, during, and after she made movies. She first came to our attention playing Robin Williams’s mother in The World According to Garp in 1982. (Interestingly, she was just four years older than her big-screen son.) Over the years, Close has been nominated for six Academy Awards (Garp, The Big Chill, The Natural, Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, and Albert Nobbs), but has never won. Before you afford the 71-year old actress too much sympathy, rest assured that she’s earned dozens of other honors, including three Tony Awards, three Emmys, and two Golden Globes.

A current role, however, may break her 36-year Oscars losing streak. As the title character in The Wife, Close delivers the performance of a lifetime, and singlehandedly redeems sense of self for every woman who has ever resented having to coddle her husband’s ego, disregard his infidelities, or otherwise selflessly “stand by her man.”

Based on Meg Wolitzer’s acclaimed 2003 novel, The Wife, directed by Swedish director Björn Runge, with screenplay by Jane Anderson (Olive Kittredge), offers an intimate look at a few definitive days in the 40-year marriage of literary lion Joe Castleman and his devoted wife, Joan. Joe has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; the Castlemans, along with their grown and resentful son David (Max Irons), fly to Stockholm for the ceremony.

The movie takes place in only a handful of locales: their lovely home in Connecticut; aboard the Concorde; their executive suite in a Swedish hotel; the Stockholm Concert Hall; and the back of a limo. We are eavesdropping on a couple who long ago perfected the way they work together. We witness moments of shared elation (the phone call from Sweden, the birth of a first grandchild), as well as longstanding resentments (Joe’s insecurities, Joan’s anger over Joe’s extramarital affairs). The character-based drama would work equally well onstage — especially with its tremendously talented cast.

Jonathan Pryce, a two-time Tony winner himself, plays Joe with much of the self-important, misanthropic energy he brought to another film about “important” literary figures, Listen Up, Philip. He’s an unabashed narcissist, and he’s not satisfied with simply acting out his own grandiose vision of himself. He has to diminish those around him, introducing his son to his fellow Nobel laureates as a “writer also; he’s still finding his voice.” Joe can be disarmingly charming or abhorrently self-absorbed, and he switches gears suddenly and seamlessly when it suits his needs. Pryce, like his character, is a powerful presence.

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  • Stephen Granzyk September 4, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    This laudable effort by Close and the other actors cannot save this film from the most unlikely implausible premise. The concept is a given–men have used and abused women and taken advantage of selfless givers forever, but as the story unfolds the fact that a novelist could simply hoodwink the entire world into believing he actually wrote novel after novel after novel that he didn’t write–or that any creative genius would do it over and over and over and still suffer not only her husband’s pride but his ungrateful infidelities as well, without all mayhem breaking loose sooner as opposed to later, could only be entertained by someone who has no idea what actually goes into such a completely exhausting effort–a novel maybe, but not a life time of them. I fear the script may doom Close’s Oscar bid as well.