The Wife

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Precious Doll
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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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