The Wife movie review: Glenn Close's performance, Bjorn Runge's direction elevate this excellent relationship drama

The Wife is a film that can render both warmth and chills within a span of minutes as its dramatic heft, anchored by a magnificent performance from Glenn Close, skillfully pierces through our hearts.

Mihir Fadnavis February 15, 2019 11:44:04 IST

3.5/5

The Wife is a film that can render both warmth and chills within a span of minutes as its dramatic heft, anchored by a magnificent performance from Glenn Close, skillfully pierces through our hearts. This is a strange film to release during the Valentine's Day weekend, but it is a film that needs to be watched, experienced and absorbed fully into your emotional stream.

The Wife movie review Glenn Closes performance Bjorn Runges direction elevate this excellent relationship drama

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce in The Wife. Image via Twitter

Based on a book of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, and in the sensitive hands of Swedish filmmaker Bjorn Runge (Festen), The Wife has the atmosphere of a Kieslowski film with quietly bubbling drama that always seems to threaten to burst. We’re introduced to Joan Castleman (Close), enroute to Stockholm with her husband Joseph (Jonathnan Pryce), who is to be handed the Nobel prize in Literature. It is a dream come true for the entire family, and their son David (Max Irons) can hardly contain his excitement and his adulation for his father. There is, however, a niggle as Joan seems to be disturbed by thoughts from the past, which keep stacking up and demolishing like a pack of memory cards.

Writer Jane Anderson and director Runge do fabulously well in drawing the viewer in with a slight mystery about what is really happening as they slowly pull back the curtains and reveal the dynamics between Joan and her husband. Discerning viewers would find it easy to guess but Close’s quietly powerful performance and Runge’s grasp on lighting and atmosphere is intoxicating as he downplays the big beats, paradoxically making the moments all the more penetrating. There’s an undercurrent of melancholy that hooks you in straight away and stays till the end, beautifully complimented by commentary on gender dynamics and tonal textures that linger discreetly. The revelations that the film offers are poignant and the decisions that Close’s character makes once the rug is pulled from under your feet are positively haunting.

What also works is how the film sort of compresses our emotions for an hour before it suddenly explodes into an intense release. Don’t expect fun because this is, after all a relationship drama and therefore quite a bitter indictment of how people hurt each other because they have no one else to absorb their wounds. It is because the dramatic beats are so perfectly calibrated that the darkly funny moments really pop out, lending a balanced levity and a complete, well-rounded film instead of an obstinately gloomy one. Pryce also shines here as the flawed husband, bestowing humanity to a character that demonstrates few sympathetic qualities, while Christian Slater has a nice cameo as a journalist out to break a scandal about the couple, even though he often looks like he walked in directly from the sets of Mr Robot without changing his clothes.

There are a few Oscar-baity things in the The Wife which I won’t go into detail about, because this is a film that’s good enough to take that bait. It is odd that a film this good was sitting on shelves for two years and is now being given an awards ceremony push, but since it’s out in theaters now, you must make the most of this opportunity.

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