Movie Review: The Wife
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Director: Björn Runge
by Jason Koenigsberg
There is a saying that behind every great man, there is a greater woman, well the movie The Wife is a love letter to all of the strong women that take a back seat and are often invisible to their more well-renowned husbands. The opening shot shows a couple in bed, the husband is up and seems restless while the wife appears to be asleep. We learn that this is taking place in Connecticut in 1992. After a few moments, it is uncovered that they are an upper-class and playful couple. Within the first five minutes, they receive a phone call very early in the morning that the husband has just won the Nobel Prize for literature. They celebrate by jumping on the bed (a scene that will reverberate later on in the picture with a different meaning) and that sets off the course of events the audience will see as this couple goes through the motions celebrating and then they travel to Stockholm, Sweden to accept the prestigious award.
They go to Sweden in December so it is very cold and the color palette reflects the climate in the cinematography. There are lots of blue and cold, sterile colors. The Wife has an office look to it. It is not until the audience sees flashbacks to when our couple meets in 1958 and then again in the early 1960’s that the cinematography changes with stark reds, oranges and a warmer lighting scheme as the mise-en-scene illustrates a warmer and more innocent time when the couple was still in their inception of becoming the long-standing unit that they are in Sweden. Also interesting is how Glenn Close’s character is always framed in the middle of practically every scene. There is even one scene when she is practically being smushed between two men on an airplane and the camera still stays focused on her and keeps her in the middle. Only towards the end does the camera actually put her character out of focus and make her look soft and it is done so for a reason that should not be spoiled. In order to discuss The Wife, it is best to leave story elements out and be vague with that plot. This way it will unravel naturally on screen as the characters develop… and what deliciously multi-faceted characters they are.
The performances are some of the most engaging of any film this year. Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce are indelible as the long-suffering title character, and her famous writer husband respectively. A lot of well deserved praise will go to Glenn Close as it should, but Jonathan Pryce is the other half of the couple and one of the main reasons why The Wife works so well. At this point of the year, they both should earn acting nominations come awards season. Both of their characters are identifiable and empathetic. They engage the audience and even the smaller roles like Christian Slater as a biographer and Max Irons as their son come to life more than one might expect because they are sharing the screen with two extremely talented, experience and refined performers.
Glenn Close really delivers a landmark performance in her career as a wife of her time to a beloved writer. The Wife is about the sacrifices women make, (or used to make and let’s face it probably still do more than we like to admit) for their husbands. Ms. Close has been nominated six times for an Academy Award. Five times in the 1980’s and once more in 2011 for Albert Nobbs and to this day she is 0-6. This is one of her finest roles for a legendary yet tragically underrated actress and perhaps if the winds blow the right way in a few months, she will end her losing streak and this could be the year she finally becomes Academy Award Winner Glenn Close. She should have won in 1987 for Fatal Attraction, but I digress.
That being said, The Wife is not without its flaws, and there is one glaring manipulative moment at the end that felt like the screenplay went a little too far trying to squeeze out as much as it could from its audience. Once again, it is frustrating to write a review and to read it but no major plot points should be discussed even though The Wife is hardly a film that is plot driven. The less you know about the story, the more will be revealed by the characters as they shed their layers and hook the audience in. It has strong performances that will resonate with viewers and is one of the most mature, feminist films without being blatant with its message. The Wife is a portrait of a marriage that Ingmar Bergman would be proud of.