The Wife

Reza
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Re: The Wife

Postby Reza » Wed Sep 26, 2018 2:44 am

Whenever an overdue actor finally wins (whether for a worthy performance or one that is sub-par) it is always a very popular victory voted in by the Hollywood community.

Many winners as examples down history:

Susan Hayward (on her 5th nod in 1958)
Gregory Peck (on his 5th nod in 1962)
Henry Fonda (on his 2nd nod but 41 years after his first)
Maureen Stapleton (on her 4th nod in 1981)
Shirley MacLaine (on her 5th nod in 1983)
Geraldine Page (on her 8th nod in 1985)
Paul Newman (on his 7th nod in 1986 - would go on to win two more nods later)
Al Pacino (on his 8th nod in 1992)
Susan Sarandon (on her 5th nod in 1995)
Kate Winslet (on her 5th nod in 2008)
Jeff Bridges (on his 5th nod in 2009 - won 2 more nods later)
Julianne Moore (on her 5th nod in 2014)
Leonardo DiCaprio (on his 5th nod in 2015)

This year Robert Redford is in a similar position as Henry Fonda - a popular and respected actor who could finally win after his first nod 45 years ago.

Both Katharine Hepburn (her 2nd and 4th wins) and Meryl Streep (her 3rd win) were popular victories as these wins came after big gaps.

Now Glenn Close is in a situation where she is considered to be overdue. Let's see if she wins or instead goes the route of Thelma Ritter, Deborah Kerr and Richard Burton.

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Re: The Wife

Postby Uri » Wed Sep 26, 2018 1:07 am

Mister Tee wrote:I simply don't get what persuaded critics and bloggers to react so strongly to the performance last year


Once the Oscar narrative was set, and in this case it seemed to happen when people learned what the premise of the film was and the fact that Close, highly respected yet Oscar free, had a leading role in a "serious" film. The actual performance became secondary, still the canonizing of it is required in order to build up that said Oscar narrative. It happened in the past with Geraldine Page (with what was a subpar performance) or Susan Sarandon (a good, but not THAT good one).

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Re: The Wife

Postby Greg » Tue Sep 25, 2018 10:06 pm

What is ironic is that they will not be awarding the Nobel Literature Prize this year.

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Re: The Wife

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Sep 25, 2018 8:09 pm

I'd avoided this thread prior to seeing the movie, but a friend had told me he thought it was "awful", so my expectation-level was significantly down going in. I couldn't rise to the bile-level that both he and dws express (except regarding the Christian Slater performance -- that was dire)...but I do think it's a pretty thin movie, and I'm kind of amazed it got the reception it did at Toronto last year, and from critics in general release.

SPOILERS

Basically, it's an anecdote blown up to full-length -- the guy feted with the Literature Nobel is a bit of a Milli Vanilli, with his wife doing most of the actual writing (though the film is rather muddled on this: sometimes seeming to say it's a collaboration, other times suggesting it's all her and he's stealing the glory). The film takes forever to finally reveal this deception, although I think a lot of us at least half guessed or assumed it far earlier than the final unveiling. And it doesn't do all that much with it, since, almost immediately after, the Jonathan Pryce character has a fatal heart attack and the film is soon over.

There were a lot of ways this subject could have been explored with more nuance. As dws says, the film implies that the one brief exchange with Elizabeth McGovern was enough to put the Close character permanently in the background -- even though, at the time of that scene, Harper Lee and Sylvia Plath, for example, were having novels published. It would have been more interesting if the film had suggested the Pryce character's dominance over her (seeing they began as professor/teacher) was what cowed her. Or if, at any point in their life together, they were tempted to come forward and reveal the truth -- it's not as if collaborative effort would have been that big a scandal by, say, the 70s or early 80s; by then, critical commitment to their output would have been so undeniable, it would have been more a novelty than cause for excommunication. If, say, the Close character had broached this possibility, and the Pryce character balked, that would have been a dramatic situation -- and whatever outcome was achieved would have told us something about each of them. There was also, as Uri notes, opportunity to deal with how knowing the truth would affect the dynamic with the son (who, Close tells us, takes little encouragement from literary praise given by his mother, when, in reality, that should have been most important to him).

But we get none of that. The film seems happy to deal with the central situation in as one-dimensional, flat a way as possible; they apparently consider this more than enough content to support an entire film (and, judging by response, they've convinced many). They also probably feel that, in so doing, they've produced some sort of feminist document. Which is...questionable. It seems to me the only way they really achieve that is by constantly shooting Close in reaction shots (culminating in that spotlight at the Nobel dinner -- which eerily recalls, for me, the light on Close in the stands during The Natural). It doesn't feel, dramatically, like it's Close's movie, until near the end of the running time (Pryce, if anyone, seems more dominant), but the film keeps insisting, visually, that it has been hers all along.

This visual highlighting has also presumably led to the Oscar campaign that has given this film the box-office life it has. I simply don't get what persuaded critics and bloggers to react so strongly to the performance last year (and dws is right: had the studio rushed the opening, she'd have been swamped by the McDormand/Ronan/Hawkins triumvirate). I know there was some question whether Julianne Moore deserved her Still Alice award in absolute terms, but I don't think many denied it was a strong, attention-getting performance. Close, by contrast, is fine here (as she often is), but, until her final tirade against Pryce, I didn't see anything resembling an Oscar scene. And I thought the filmmakers -- the writer especially -- even undercut that by having her so quickly transition to Loyal Helpmate tending to sick husband. How much more interesting that scene could have been had Close at first been resistant -- "Don't try to get me back on your side, pulling this sick act" -- and only slowly realizing it was genuine and dire. THAT would have been an Oscar scene. As it is, I think the primary rationale for Close winning at this point is, people feel her career rates a prize, this is the closest to a major role she's had in a long time, and how many other chances will she have? But in terms of, yeah, THIS is a performance that should win an Oscar...god help me, I could see the thinking behind Gary Oldman's (undeserved) wine better than I can here.

Two small things: 1) The most interesting part of the movie was seeing the interior machinations of the Nobel experience (though, would anyone really want to be awakened from a sound sleep by cherubs singing Santa Lucia?) 2) Bad enough they showed that cheesy, clearly toy airplane to indicate the flight to Stockholm...did they really think it was a good idea to reprise it as a closing shot?

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Re: The Wife

Postby Reza » Mon Sep 17, 2018 6:38 am

I would rather see Glenn Close win her Oscar for Sunset Blvd (if they ever get round to filming it) than for this piffle.

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Re: The Wife

Postby Uri » Mon Sep 17, 2018 3:51 am

A very good take, DWS. If this film was a person, I'd say it lacked any shred of self awareness. It's a schlocky melodrama believing itself to be a hoity toity Grand Drama. Had it embraced its sclockiness, or celebrated this sensationalist nature (IT'S THE WIFE WHO WROTE IT - dah, HE DIES THE DAY HE WAS AWARDED - as if) and was made into a self reflecting piece a-la Almodobar or Hayes it might have worked. Or it could have been made into a high brow (good old) Allen comedy (Philip Roth was actually the ultimate WASP woman!) There are interesting themes here to explore - gender roles,what's being an artistic offspring of a successful artist like and most of all, the nature of the artistic voice, could there really be a separation between what one writes about and the way one does it (the content vs. form debate) - Price is not only editing Close's writing, it's his life she's writing about. Or even just a sincere, matter of fact account of a very out of the ordinary happening (getting a Nobel prize) - you know, a smallish life-is-disappointing kind of European drama.

But no, again it's all about making the most cliched, "proven" choices. For example, in a way, it's the same film as another, recent, bad film - Fences. The Wife should have been, you know, about the wife, about this unique female character in unique circumstances. As a young woman she's portrayed to be a non sentimental judge of literary writing - she's not afraid to put her prospect spouse in his artistic place. She spent her life frustratingly in the dark, keeping the most significant aspect of her being hidden. Yet in the "present" she's Viola Davis - Earth Mama mediating between her critical husband and her please-love-me-daddy son. Would it kill them to make her the harder, harsher, cut-to-the-chase parent and her shallow, crowd pleasing husband the good-cup vying for his children's affection? It would make the son revealing the truth far more complex and rewarding. But no, it must follow the most contrived patterns. A really bad film.

Close is technically ok, I guess. So what?

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Re: The Wife

Postby Precious Doll » Sun Sep 16, 2018 4:26 pm

Great review dws. I didn't dislike the film as much as you did but I enjoyed reading your insights.

I briefly mentioned the film in another thread a couple of months ago and am pasting it here FYI:

"Close is good in The Wife but nothing more. She's also the best thing about a generally high-minded cliched, I should have seen the twist coming but I really wasn't that invested in what what unfolding on the screen. Jonathan Pryce & Max Irons are handed thankless roles and Christian Slater lays on the sleaze in his usual reliable fashion. Directed by Björn Runge with a big serving of self importance, it's an empty vessel in search of soul."
“Those Koreans. They’re so suspicious, you know, ever since Hiroshima.” Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) from American Horror Story: Season One

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The Wife

Postby dws1982 » Sun Sep 16, 2018 4:02 pm

Since this is part of the Oscar conversation, I suppose it deserves a thread of its own, mainly so we can discuss it with spoilers.

So, if you haven't watched it yet, SPOILERS AHEAD.

I'm not going to do like this movie did and try to hide things from my audience: I'll be very upfront and tell you that I hated this movie. What an empty, tedious film this is. And barely a movie at all--too much of the framing and staging feels like it's made by a stage director who was called in to do the movie version of his hit play.

It's about a novelist (played by Jonathan Pryce as a giant boor) who travels with his wife (Close) and son (Max Irons) to Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Meanwhile, he's followed (some might say stalked) by a would-be biographer (Christian Slater) who has no sense of boundaries in his quest to write a tell-all biography. When they get there, everything comes to a head, and ugly truths are revealed, just like in an old play.

Structurally, it's a bit of a mess; it relies on a big flashback structure that builds up to a big revelation, which is (and this is where SPOILERS START) that Pryce's character, while he knows all of the mechanics of writing, never quite had the talent for it that you would expect from a Nobel prize-winning writer; all of his books were ghost-written by Close's character, while her husband essentially served as the editor. (Honestly, I think it would've been more dramatically interesting if the movie had not treated this information as an ace up its sleeve, but had instead told us about it from the start.) It's an interesting-enough revelation, not exactly a huge surprise (the movie is not subtle enough to make this a true surprise), but the fact that the son finds out is potentially a paradigm-shifting revelation for him, and for his relationships with his his parents. But the movie runs an hour-forty, and this revelation is around the hour-twenty mark, which means there isn't much time to deal the ramifications of this revelation. And of course the movie has no intention of dealing with it--it completely cops out by killing Pryce's character off right after this, which allows the movie to completely escape actually dealing with the consequences.

Another (silly) pet peeve: It really bugs me when a movie goes out of its way to establish a setting (in this case, 1992), when there's no reason at all why it should have that setting. I mean, 1992 isn't particularly wrong for the setting, but outside of lots of smoking in restaurants (which may still be a thing in Sweden, I wouldn't know) and a stray Bill Clinton reference, there's no reason for it. I guess it may have to do with the fact that Close's character, coming out of college around 1960, felt she couldn't become a successful writer due the sexism of the time. (Which I'll come back to.) They still could've shifted the main part of the film 2002, and it would've fit with the flashback timeline, and it would've made Close and Pryce much more age-appropriate for the roles. There's one scene set in 1968, and all I could think was how on earth are we supposed to believe that these characters will age into Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce in just 24 years? Harry Lloyd to Jonathan Pryce (a made-up-to-look-slightly-older Jonathan Pryce at that) in under a quarter-century? That's some hard living.

As far as the feminism/sexism angle, I didn't much buy that either. Close's character is apparently a great writer, even as a young student. All it takes is one conversation with Elizabeth McGovern's character to convince her that she'll never make it as a female writer, and she might as well just give up. Look, i'm not denying that men have had (and still have, in many cases) an easier go of it in most careers, historically. But even in the early 60's, and before, there were plenty of successful female novelists--females who were commercially and critically successful. If it's meant to be a comment on Close's character and her sense of self that she would be this easily discouraged from pursuing a career, there's not much in the text of the film or in Close's performance that goes with this. It's clear that she did give up a possible career, but for so much of the movie, it just seems like she was an introvert who was more-or-less okay with living behind the outsized personality of her husband. We also see that she was willing to go along with the deception, and based on the way it was presented, it was her idea to start ghostwriting in the first place.

I was honestly surprised not to see Close's name in the credits as a producer; this movies feels like such a vanity project for its leading lady, and it's directed in such a way that every important piece of dialogue or body language is accompanied with long, close-up reaction shots from Close. And Close is fine, I guess. Actresses her age (other than Meryl Streep) don't get roles that put them front-and-center too often, but honestly I didn't see anything unique that Streep, Spacek, or Jessica Lange--just to name the other three biggest actresses of the 80's--wouldn't have done with the role. If she wins the Oscar, I think it'll be more the result of a weak year (which we don't know if it'll be yet) than anything else--the past few year, I can't imagine she would've even got a nomination.

No one else makes much impression. I've loved Jonathan Pryce in the past (watch the movie Regeneration on Amazon Prime if you want to see what he is capable of) but this character is a giant jackass and Pryce never offers up much beyond that. Max Irons does what he can, but the character is written like one of the children from Six Degrees of Separation. I feel like the movie really shortchanged that character. And Christian Slater is irritating enough to make me regret that Mr. Robot ever gave him a reboot to his career.


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