By RANDAL C. HILL
In the Sony Pictures Classics offering The Wife, Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) accompanies her husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce), a celebrated writer, to Stockholm. There Joan, a gifted writer herself, is asked, “Do you have an occupation?”
She pauses, considers her answer, then responds with a tight-lipped, “I do…I am a kingmaker.”
The Wife opens at the sprawling Castleman home in Connecticut in 1992. A much-anticipated phone call from Sweden brings Joe big news: he will be named
the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Before long the couple are on a Stockholm bound jet, where they encounter a pushy writing hack named Nathan Bone (Christian Slater). He’s doing research on a warts-and-all biography of the world-renowned Joe, who rudely dismisses the interloper. The persistent Bone, who has uncovered one of Joan’s superb college writing projects, “The Faculty Wife,” later convinces her to meet him for a drink. That’s when the story kicks into a higher gear, setting the stage for an eventual cringe-worthy climax.
In a flashback to 1958, we meet the younger, insufferably pompous (and married) writing professor Joe (Harry Lloyd), who seduces and marries his
star pupil, Joan (Annie Starke—Close’s daughter in real life). In time, the new Mrs. Castleman relinquishes her
writing ambitions to become a full-time career-builder for Joe, a talented and charismatic storyteller. He’s also
a serial philanderer with an adolescent-level need for approval.
Back to 1992, at a pre-ceremony party in Stockholm, an effusive Joe offers an ironic toast to Joan: “My wife’s not a writer, thank God. If she were, I’d have permanent writer’s block.”
Joan, realizing with a slowly dawning horror that she has assigned herself the passenger seat in her life’s journey, reaches her breaking point, having made the pronouncement that, “There’s nothing more dangerous that a writer whose feelings have been hurt.”
What happens, predictably, isn’t pretty.
Close, 71, said she is very proud of the film.
“I think it speaks to the subtleties of the male-female relationship, and women who have defined themselves through men to their detriment,” she said.
The six-time, Academy Award-nominated Close gives an understated, Oscar-worthy performance here that ranks alongside her previous best efforts
(Dangerous Liaisons, Fatal Attraction). Hollywood is already abuzz with talk that this film could finally snag her the long-overdue award.
Directed by Bjorn Runge with a screenplay by Jane Anderson, The Wife is based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer.
The movie opened August 3.