Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Wife

Let me count the ways that I love Glenn Close: she was able to garner sympathy when she played a mentally disturbed woman who refused to be tossed aside like a used napkin in Fatal Attraction (I even bought the DVD in order to see the original ending, the one that Close believed is the rightful one); she played an adulteress herself in The Big Chill, but one who was willing to het her husband father a baby with her best friend - the fact this felt normal is down to the charisma of Close; she was the ultimate feminist in The World According to Garp; deliciously cruel as Cruella DeVille in 101 Dalmations; powerful and determined as Teddy Barnes in my guilty pleasure Jagged Edge and perhaps at her most luminous, most acidic and most memorable as the utterly wicked Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons. (Who could forget the incredible moment John Malkovich as Valmont demands that she keep her side of the deal and sleep with him or it will be war... only for the Marquise to give an aquiescing smile as her lip curls and she yells a triumphant: 'War!').

She is easily one of my favourite actresses of all time, so I went to see The Wife with high hopes. I couldn't have been more disappointed.

The film begins in 1992 in Conneticut, when Joe Castleman played by Johnathan Pryce, gets a phone call to say he has won the Nobel prize for literature. Joan, his wife, (played by Close) listens in on the other line, her face a picture of shock and wonder. The couple with their wet weekend of a son (played by a pudgy Max Irons who desperately needs a haircut and to ditch the leather jacket) travel to Stockholm to collect the award, followed by the human snake that is Christian Slater - a journo desperate to write a tell all book on Joe. (Slater is terrific - at his sleazy best).

Joan gathers up socks, picks crumbs from Joe's beard and tells him when to take his pills. She is the steady wheels behind his success, which he is quick to explain at every given opportunity. When asked what Joan does for a living, she replies 'I am a Kingmaker' and aint that the truth. There is of course a much deeper reason for Joan's angst in her role of sidekick - which is less of a reveal and more of - 'this fact has been blatantly obvious from the second act.'

Joan's rage simmers until it can no longer... which left me with the question - why now? If you have accepted this role for the whole of your life (one Joe's first wife was glad to escape) then why suddenly kick off? Over the Nobel prize? The 'truth' fails to unpick what role Joe had in this arrangement - how did his ego fare, save the fact he ran around shagging other women? There is a whole well of complex relationship questions that remain completely unanswered.

Close's daughter plays the younger Joan in flashbacks and she has clearly inherited her mother's talent; but there is precious little for her to do. Plus there are no styling differences between present day and flashback, which feels like a missed opportunity. When we hop back in time, it feels jarring and lack lustre, as if the budget ran out and they filmed all the scenes in one day.

Which brings me to the woeful direction. At one point I found myself thinking 'did Bjorn Runge run out of shots? Maybe forget to get a better focus?' The lack of skill made me constantly feel outside the film and not at all engrossed in it. The scene where Joe and Joan's son discovers the truth behind his dad's success, is a crash course in heightened melodrama and how NOT to act.

Close is clearly meant to be the mouse who roared but in fact she is a bitter little shrew who simply glowers through most of the film with only a couple of dramatic outbursts. An actress of this calibre deserves better to chew on. Perhaps there are far more nuances and complexities in the book that the director has simply shaved away here making the film feel flat and one note. The climactic scene is so over the top it belongs on a soap opera not the big screen.  Finally, his want to keep Close centre stage, so obscuring other characters from view - literally cutting them from frame - is distracting. Instead of focusing on Close, we are wondering where the headless air hostess is. Did the director not believe that Close was captivating enough without this tedious technique? Mate, the woman steals every scene she has ever been in, so fill the frame!


Spoiler alert: So Joan is the writer not Joe! Who knew! Who saw that coming? Are we to believe that even in the era of Joan Didion, Erica Jong, Sylvia Path and Gloria Steinem that Joan wouldn't have broken through unless under the guise of a man? Perhaps so, but by the late 70s and 80s this surely wouldn't have been the case? I found it somewhat unbelievable that a woman - played by the tour de force that is Close - would have allowed that to happen - to be the silent partner while her husband gets all the glory. If there is a morality tale here, I sure as hell didn't get it.

Perhaps come March, after 6 nominations, Close will win her well deserved Oscar. But it is a shame that it will be for this limp offering and not her blistering performances of old. Close will always be watchable, but give this one a miss.