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