At exactly the 5-minute mark of The Wife, the camera sits on a close-up of Joan Castleman’s (Glenn Close) face as she holds a phone to her ear. While taking in what the person is saying on the other line, her face flips through a myriad of emotions: excitement, disappointment, bewilderment. Why the wide range of feelings, we don’t yet know. All that’s clear at this point is that this is the start of a powerhouse performance from Close, one that deserves the viewer’s undivided attention.
The news she’s just been presented with is that her husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) has been chosen to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. The two jump on the bed together like children, as he chants “I won the Nobel” over and over again with glee. Soon after, they’re off to Stockholm to begin the prestigious festivities. We see that she’s the consummate wife, always standing by his side, smiling politely as he’s showered with praise. But there’s something subtle about her demeanor – something akin to carefully composed, level-headed hysteria – that makes us question what’s going on with her.
Through flashbacks, we see the series of events that led to this moment, starting with how Joan met her husband, who was her college writing professor. She was a young woman with a true gift for writing, but her life takes a turn when she’s confronted with the possibility that as a woman, she’ll never be truly taken seriously as a literary talent. When a female writer she admires tells her this, it’s a statement that appalls her to her very core. “A writer has to write,” she reasons. But when the woman shoots back, “A writer has to be read,” she’s instantly silenced. In that moment, the trajectory of her life and career is forever altered.
What makes the film work so well is Close’s absolute commitment to the role of a brilliant woman living in her husband’s shadow. She’s multifaceted, complicated and understated, and watching her emotions build up and her secrets spill out is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Although The Wife is based on the best-selling Meg Wolitzer novel that was published in 2003, this is a story that’s thought-provoking, angering and timely – in 2018, this is a film that feels tailor-made for right now.
This edition of The Latest is sponsored by Miami Charter Bus Company.
The Wife is now playing at Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater Miami. For showtimes, click here.