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Movie Review: The Wife

The Wife

Joan (Glenn Close) may appear to be the happy wife of author Joseph (Jonathan Pryce), but The Wife will slowly expose the truths.

The Wife is another summer release I missed out on seeing at the box office. Ever since its Oscar chances for Best Actress, it sparked my interest. I’m glad I saw it.

The film begins in 1992 with Joan Castleman and her husband Joseph just waking up. Joan appears to be the happy wife of a renowned author. They receive the news that Joseph has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Both are overjoyed, at least on the outside. At the party to celebrate, their daughter Susannah, who’s having a baby, is happy, but son David is less so. David has desires to be a writer, but seems to consider his talent inferior to his father’s. Especially since he’s hesitant about hearing his father’s critique of his short story. As Joan and Joseph fly to Stockholm, a reporter named Nathaniel Bone tries to congratulate Joseph. That only causes discomfort for the two, but you notice a certain bitter feeling in Joan. A bitterness that grows even further whenever he acknowledges Joan in public.

The film goes frequently from 1992 to the past to back to 1992. In the flashbacks starting in 1958, Joan Archer is a writing student at her university. Her writing and her looks have impressed a young Joseph Castleman who’s a college professor. Joan refutes his advances at first, but things change when she works at a publishing company and hears from her boss Elaine Mozell that female writers don’t have a chance at competing against men. Joan continues to attend more classes with Joseph teaching and his encouragement wins her love to him. Joseph tries to make it as a writer while Joan just wants to be a housewife. But when Joseph’s writing is declined by publishers, Joan starts tutoring him. By 1968, it’s a case where Joan ghostwrites novels Joseph is to be credited with while he plays ‘househusband’ to the kids. Over the decades after many novels, and adulterous affairs, the narcissistic Joseph has become a Nobel Prize winner.

Back to Stockholm, Joseph and Joan are put in a hotel with all of his books present. Joan appears to be excite over seeing all of his books published in other languages. Later, Joseph meets with many important people leading up to the Prizes ceremony. Joseph has a heart condition that comes without notice and requires medication, as noticed during the ceremony rehearsal. One night, Joseph is lured away by a young female photographer named Linnea. Joan leaves, unhappy with what she saw. Nathaniel notices an unhappy Joan in the hotel lounge and invites him to drinks. Nathaniel reveals he’s been studying up on Joseph and has gotten the sense that it was Joan who was doing all the writing. Joan tries to call them lies and tell him to go away. Meanwhile Linnea comes onto Joseph. Joseph accepts, but his heart condition acts back up. Both confront each other about what was going on, but the heated argument ends when they receive a phone call learning of their newborn grandson.

The night of the ceremony occurs. before the Awards, David arrives. He confronts the two about what he heard from Nathaniel Bone. The two deny everything. As Joseph receives the Prize, Joan’s bitterness grows first at the Prizes ceremony and then at the dinner banquet. In the limo to the hotel, they get into a heated argument which causes Joseph to give the prize to Joan, only for her to refuse it. The argument continues on as Joan throws books at Joseph and tells him she’s divorcing him. Joseph goes into a heart attack. It’s apparent it’s fatal. As Joseph is dying awaiting paramedics, Joan tells Joseph she loves him. Joseph’s last words to her are “You’re such a good liar.” On the airplane home with David, Nathaniel Bone acknowledges the loss, but Joan’s response, and the film’s ending, will surprise you in a subtle way.

This year’s Oscars appear to be full of films with social messages. This film has a message about sexism in the arts. We have Joan who wants to write, but it’s Joseph who takes the credit for it. It’s not that uncommon as I once read a 1975 book called The People’s Almanac and they had an article in their chapter on literature titled “She Wrote It, He Got The Credit.” We shouldn’t forget that the time Joan chose to ghostwrite for Joseph was back in the early 1960’s. Female writers may have better chances not, but it’s still hard. Don’t forget J.K. Rowling went by her initials instead of Joanna Rowling with that belief she won’t be taken seriously as a writer. The story is very similar to Big Eyes as Margaret Keane ‘ghostpainted’ under the name Walter Keane because of the sexism in art. I think that explains why Joan was very willing to ghostwrite for Joseph back then. Because she felt the only way she can show her writing to the world was under a male name.

Nevertheless the film is more about the story and the woman rather than the social message. Joan is a woman who appears to be happy on the outside and very in love with her husband. However as each passing moment and instance comes up, Joan’s hidden anger of being the true writer and the wife of an adulterous man becomes more obvious in her silence. You had the feeling that Joan would explode any minute and her true feelings would show. It happens right there after Joseph wins the big prize. However the thing about Joan is that she is willing to keep her peace after his death and make the truth known to just David and Susannah, but hidden from everyone else including Nathaniel Bone. It takes a person of that much self-control underneath the hidden rage to have that much strength to let things be.

The story itself is pieced together very well. We have that moment in 1992 in the days from when Joseph’s award is announced to his eventual death. We also have the past where Joseph and Joan meet, and then become the ‘writing pair’ over time. We also have Joseph being lured to Linnea which would unravel another dirty secret. The film does a good job in moving scenes from 1992 to back in the past to returning to Stockholm to returning to the past and so on. The quality is that it keeps the audience in the wonder. You have the audience thinking one thing at first, sensing something’s wrong later on, and then finding out the truth near the climactic end. That’s an excellent quality because it provides the film with the mystery to keep the audience intrigued.

This is the first English-language film directed by Swedish director Bjorn Runge. He does a very good job of directing the film and the story. I have never read the novel The Wife, but scriptwriter Jane Anderson does a very good job in adapting Meg Wolitzer’s novel into a story to keep the audience intrigued. The highlight of course is Glenn Close’s acting. The best thing about the performance is not just how she delivers, but how she’s able to keep so many things hidden in her character only to come out at the right time. You could see the hidden hurt and disappointment in her character and that was the best quality. Acting is more of what’s unsaid than said. However the film is not only Glenn’s. Jonathan Pryce also delivered well as the husband who can’t confront his problems right. Annie Starke, daughter of Glenn, did a very good job of playing the younger Joan. She did a good job of showing Joan’s disappointment that early in her life, but mix it with her willingness. Max Irons, son of Jeremy Irons, played David very well, butI was not happy about seeing him have a role where he appears like he’s always hurting.

The Wife is more about the character than the social message. However it’s also about the story that makes it so intriguing to watch.

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Oscars 2011 Best Picture Nominee: Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

“If things were easy to find, they wouldn’t be worth finding.”

I know many of you would be nervous at first of attending a movie like Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close. 9/11 films aren’t exactly crowd-winners. Ever since United 93 and even up to now, it still isn’t. It’s still a tense topic to this day and doesn’t make for good subject matter for people to see a movie about. Nevertheless Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close is a good film of its own, if imperfect.
 
Oskar Schell is a young boy who’s a smart but fearful and eccentric brainiac often mistaken for having Asperger’s. However he’s dealing with an inner pain. His father Thomas died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, a day Oskar refers to as ‘the worst day’. His father was a jeweller who spent a lot of time with Oskar nurturing his creative and eccentric quest for knowledge. He would create puzzles, help him develop his own business cards (which lists him as inventor, Francophile and pacifist), have oxymoron challenges while practising karate, and even have scavenger hunts. You could tell Oskar is still very much an intellectual now. He keeps his collection of butterflies. He has his collection of facts and figures. He’s even intellectual in his lewd talk: “Succotash my Balzac, dipshiitake!” Yeah, real charming.
 
However his father’s death still upsets him. He died in the first tower and his body was never found. His mother held a fake funeral with an empty coffin in hopes that it would help them both heal. But Oskar is still hurting and lonely to the point he has distanced himself from his mother and even hurts himself physically. He still has the answering machine of the last six messages his father left before he was killed and replays all but the sixth and last one often, something he has hidden from his mother and replaced with a new answering machine on ‘the worst day’. The only person he talks to regularly is his grandmother who lives in an apartment next door..He feels that the missing ‘puzzle piece’ from the last scavenger hunt he had with his father could keep him from losing the spirit of his father altogether. The quest is to find out what to search for and find it.
 
One year later while Oskar goes through his father’s clothes and olf belongings, he accidentally breaks a vase. In it is a key inside a small envelope with the name black. Oskar believes this key may be the clue to the last scavenger hunt. He looks in the phone book for all the people in New York named Black: over 400 in total. He vows to search every Saturday for the person with the last name Black who knew his father and refuses to quit until its done. He won’t take any public transit, has a camera to keep a scrapbook of all the Blacks he sees, and he walks shaking his tambourine to keep his sanity while dealing with the world.
 
The first Black he sees is Abby Black, a woman just recently divorced form her husband. She says he doesn’t know his father. He visits other people named Black who don’t know his father but reach out to him: one hugs, one offers her prayer group to pray over him, another is a cross dresser, another gives him a ride upon her horse. One day, Oskar goes to visit his grandmother but meets the man his grandmother refers to as ‘the renter’.’The renter’ doesn’t talk because of witnessing a bombing during his childhood. The two become friends in the search and he learns from the man when to intervene and how to face his fears. Oskar stars to sens that the man is in fact his grandfather. Oskar even plays the messages from ‘the worst day’ for the stranger but he cannot bear to hear and demands it to stop before hearing the sixth and last message. The renter than moves out and begs Oskar not to search anymore.
 
When all seemed lost, Oskar notes a phone number on the newspaper clipping his father left a hint. It returns him to Abby Black. It turns out her ex-husband, whom she was divorcing the first time she met Oskar, may know about the key. He does meet with Mr. Black and learns about the key only to learn it’s not for Oskar at all. Disappointed and disheartened, Oskar destroys everything from his search until he learns that his mother was secretly helping him all along and even contacted all the Blacks even before Oskar had visited. Oskar compiles a scrapbook of his search and is able to find the last link of the scavenger hunt in the most overlooked of places. His fears had been conquered.
 
One strength of the movie is that it uses a creative puzzle and the Oskar’s intellectual way of thinking to help Oskar through the healing process and conquering the simplest of his fears. The scavenger hunt becomes like the journey to healing and along the way the healing comes in the moment he least expects it. The scavenger hunt is also that connection where Oskar searches for that connection that keeps him from being completely lost form his father. He finds it and learns that his bond with his father is still alive and something that ‘the worst day’ can never take away. Another thing Oskar receives is the love and care from people he never met before. It was all the people with the surname Black he encountered that shares some amount of care for him from the start of his journey to the end. It was also where his relationship with his mother heals. It was her own help with Oskar’s mission that showed the bond between the two never died. It also helped her heal too.
 
One glitch with the movie is that it doesn’t make the best of efforts of being watchable. Yes, the movie has the theme of healing but many times it focuses on the pain Oskar and his mother are going through. Especially the scenes where Oskar is shown with self-inflicted scabs. There were many times I was sitting there feeling that there would be many movie audients turned off this movie. People who have lost loved ones in 9/11 may themselves find the movie uncomfortable to watch too. Another glitch is that many feel this is a flawed look at autism. There’s no mention of autism in the movie but it has been sensed by many critics.
 
Tom Hanks did a good job of character acting as Thomas Schell, the intellectual father who always taught in character. Sandra Bullock was also very good as the grieving wife and mother. Max von Sydow was the biggest standout amongst the supporting actors playing the mute renter. Interesting how silence can make a role more that dialogue in a lot of cases. Without a doubt, the movie belonged to young Thomas Horn. This is his first ever acting role and he shines as the boy who’s both brilliant, puzzled, grieving, driven and eccentric. He doesn’t play a sugar-coated child character but one who’s very three-dimensional. Stephen Daldry is one lucky director. Ever since his first feature Billy Elliot, each of his four feature films have earned him either a Best Director Oscar nomination and/or receive Best Picture nomination. This is his fourth feature but the first one where he wasn’t nominated for Best Director. Nevertheless he does another excellent job in directing. Eric Roth does and excellent, if not glitchy, scriptwriting effort that makes this story as much our puzzle as it is Oskar’s puzzle. The score from Alexandre Desplat also fit the movie well.
 
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close is a good adaptation of a 9/11 novel but it’s not the best at being a watchable 9/11 movie which has always been a difficult task. The effort to create a mostly watchable 9/11 movie continues.
 
And there you have it. I have now finished reviewing all the Best Picture nominees of 2011. My Oscar predictions are coming Friday.