“The Wife” – Look back at any decade since 1979, and Meryl Streep could be called America’s Most Celebrated Actress. Streep collected 21 Oscar nominations and nabbed three wins over her career, so it is difficult to make a case for another actress to topple this aforementioned, fictional acting title. In the 1980’s alone, Streep collected seven Oscar nominations and two Best Actress wins for “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) and “Sophie’s Choice” (1982), but if she is the most decorated actress from the 80’s, Glenn Close might be the runner-up.
Close earned six Best Actress Oscar nominations with five coming in just seven years from 1983 to 1989, and quite frankly, if one had a time machine to jump back to 1988 and right a wrong, the Academy should take another vote on that year’s Best Actress Oscar. Cher won for “Moonstruck” (1987) in a lovely performance that let the singer stretch her acting muscles, but Close’s work as Alex Forrest, the vengeful ex-lover in director Adrian Lyne’s “Fatal Attraction” (1987) is a role that stands the test of time.
Close frightened every married man in America during the fall of 1987, and the phrase “find a bunny in a pot” became a cemented, permanent brick in pop culture for 31 years.
She should have won.
In February or March of 2019, Close should receive her seventh Best Actress Oscar nomination for her part in “The Wife”. The movie – directed by Bjorn Runge and co-starring Jonathan Pryce, Max Irons and Christian Slater – is perfectly named because Close owns every frame in which she appears and her character Joan Castleman is the most intricately-entwined with the plot. Joan carries a deep mystery, and over the course of 100 minutes, the narrative slowly reveals its secrets, and she offers subtle clues along the way. Close is mesmerizing, and since Joan is quiet and reserved, this legendary actress communicates so much over pure silence and brief discourse, and meanwhile, a bubbling angst churns just beneath the surface.
Within the first few minutes of “The Wife”, the plot is quickly revealed, because Joan’s husband Joe (Pryce) receives a call from Stockholm. He has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Joe, Joan and their son David (Irons) will travel to Sweden to pick up the award and enjoy the pomp and circumstance that comes along with the prestigious honor. Joe is dancing over the moon, and actually, the two dance or rather jump on their bed in celebration, and plenty of rejoicing should also occur in snowy Europe.
Rather than all three feeling festive, an air of tension ironically exists with David and Joan. Actually, it’s between David and Joe, but with Joan playing referee, she appears to be caught in the verbal collateral damage. Unfortunately, David’s mood remains sour, and he nitpicks at nearly everything that his dad says, so Joe cannot really solve this brooding rift, and therefore, occasional snipes and constant friction remain within this small nuclear family throughout their European visit. David has a sister Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan) as well, but since she is expecting her first baby, she will stay behind and receive the play-by-play when they return.
The picture usually stays in confined spaces, such as the Castlemans’ bedroom, onboard the plane, their hotel room, etc., and their physical closeness – due to the actual settings – amplifies Joan’s anxiety. Some of Joan’s worst-felt moments are when she is simply near Joe without an immediate option to leave, but their differences become troublesome in public as well. Joe will speak about their relationship with harmless talk, but his words heighten Joan’s embarrassment and elevate her silent rage in ways that are not directly understood. David’s issues with Joe are openly combative, but Joan’s are deeply-rooted and have been festering for some unknown length of time.
A reckoning is coming between Joe and Joan, and it feels impossible to know why or when, but her angst is in dire need of a release, and an emotional explosion or never-ending sobbing could be the end result.
Unlike Alex Forrest and the reasons for her wrath, Joan Castleman’s are far and away more justified, but unlike “Fatal Attraction”, moviegoers should universally-side with “The Wife”.
⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image and Trailer credits: Sony Pictures Classics