Review: Cast better than material in thin 'The Wife'

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce are a couple whose relationship woes are all bubbling to the surface at once

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Glenn Close in "The Wife."

In "The Wife," Glenn Close plays Joan Castleman, the long-suffering wife of acclaimed novelist Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), who is being honored with the Nobel Prize for literature. 

Except maybe he didn't author all those books, maybe she did. And as things play out in this timid drama, as a viewer you wonder why these issues never bubbled to the surface earlier in their marriage. Did it really take his being honored on the biggest stage imaginable for this matter to be discussed? 

It's a fault of the script, not the actors, that "The Wife" hangs on such a preposterous through line. Because the performances are all quite good, especially Close, who conveys years of resentment and remorse in a simple glance or a pursed lip smile. 

The film, directed by Swedish filmmaker Björn Runge, flashes back to the beginnings of their relationship, when Joan was a brilliant student and Joe was her literature professor. The very nature of their courtship was rooted in deceit -- Joe was married to another woman at the time -- so why would things change? Some 30 years later, he's still a dog, chasing after anything in a skirt and dropping the same lines he used on Joan. 

Christian Slater is effective as a slightly smarmy writer who has the jump on Joe's secret and is openly threatening to expose him. Pryce, a fine character actor, is better than his role; his Joe is made out to be somewhat of a lecherous dunce, and it's difficult to believe he would have gotten as far as he did in his career if he was this rough around the edges.

In the film's most effective scene, Joan is having a drink with Slater's character, and seeing the narrative he's painting, she offers him a stiff warning. "Please don't paint me as a victim," she hisses, "I am much more interesting than that." She's right, it's too bad "The Wife" doesn't give her the benefit of the doubt.


'The Wife'


Rated R for language and some sexual content

Running time: 100 minutes