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TIFF Review: The Wife -“Excellent “

When I exited the premiere of The Wife, I heard, more than once, the utterance from women in the crowd, “I could relate to that movie.”  Despite the progress in women’s rights and the rise of feminism, there are many women who feel they still live in the shadows of the men in their lives – whether it’s a father, a husband, a boss.  While being married and being a wife is understandably important to many, being just The Wife, is what this movie is all about.

Based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer (and adapted by Jane Anderson), The Wife tells the story of a woman who has been dealing with being “the wife of…” her whole life.  Joan (Glenn Close) is married to Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), a novelist who is informed early on in the film that he is going to be the recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature.  The two, who seem to have an endearing relationship, celebrate cutely by jumping on the bed, but it’s soon off to Stockholm to endure an endless amount of social events and adulation for the winner.

While Joan initially seems quite happy for Joe, it’s easy to see her emotional transformation through the film as her name gets forgotten, and she gets introduced as, “The wife of Mr Joe Castleman.” That is if she’s introduced at all.  Her life of living in her husband’s shadow finally starts to get the better of her, and we see through a series of flashbacks (where she is played by real-life daughter Annie Starke) life choices with which she is now grappling.

How Glenn Close has remained without an Oscar trophy to this date is surprising.  With six nominations but no wins, she now holds the record for Academy Award disappointments.  However, her role in The Wife may in fact just give her another chance at the coveted award.  As Joan, Close holds her cards close to her chest, with an incredibly nuanced performance played as much through what is not said as through her dialogue.  She can portray so much in silence.  However, when Joan finally comes to her emotional peak, Close is as good as she has ever been.

The remaining cast also plays a large part in why The Wife works.  Pryce plays husband Joe perfectly, as a man who is all at once confident yet insecure and needy.  Starke, who albeit does have the advantage of knowing her mother’s nuances, plays the young Joan exceedingly well – though the family resemblance really doesn’t hurt.  There is even a small role for Christian Slater as a writer trying to convince Joe to let him pen his biography.  He and Close have an excellent scene together, starting to unravel some of the story behind the couple.

Part of the brilliance of The Wife remains in just how that story really is revealed over time.  The flashbacks never feel contrived, instead divulging to the audience little pieces of why Joan is where she is in life and the choices she has made.  It is slowly uncovered in a way that continues to keep you engaged and wanting more.  In this way screenwriter Anderson and director Bjorn Runge have crafted a drama that feels innately organic in how it is crafted through all of its 100 minutes.

The Wife is still a somewhat conventional drama, but it is elevated by the performances of its actors, especially Close, and will speak to many, especially with the undercurrents of sexism that run under its surface and still ring true in many forms.  It’s a solid film that may help to launch Glenn Close back into the awards arena and hopefully into the winner’s circle, where she belongs.

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