The Wife' Review | TIFF - Coming to Films by the Falls April 30th

Glenn Close plays the wife of a Nobel-winning writer (Jonathan Pryce) in Bjorn Runge's adaptation of the 2003 Meg Wolitzer novel.

Like a bomb ticking away toward detonation, Glenn Close commands the center of The Wife: still, formidable and impossible to look away from.

Playing the devoted wife of a celebrated novelist (Jonathan Pryce), and the keeper of his deepest, darkest secret, the actress gives one of the richest, most riveting and complicated performances of her career. Close is so extraordinary — at once charming and inscrutable, alternately warm and withering, tender but full of contained fury — that she lifts an otherwise ordinary movie; thanks to her, the film's slightly on-the-nose satire of the literary world and its somewhat familiar portrait of a problematic marriage take on a gnawing urgency.

Directed by Swedish filmmaker Bjorn Runge (Daybreak) and adapted by Jane Anderson from Meg Wolitzer's novel, The Wife opens in 1992. Joe and Joan Castleman are in their Connecticut home, trying, and failing, to fall asleep. The reason for their restlessness: Joe has been tipped to win the Nobel Prize in literature, and they're hoping for an early-morning call from the committee. As they toss and turn, teasing each other and fooling around, the film establishes the ticklish, exasperated intimacy of a happily long-married couple.

The phone rings: Joe has indeed won the Nobel. At a party to celebrate the news, Joe's agent informs the Castlemans that a major magazine is "bumping a story about Bill Clinton" to make room for a piece on Joe. The mention of the Clinton name is hardly incidental. Razor-sharp, disciplined and stoic (she barely flinches at Joe's affairs), Joan is above all the dutiful guardian of her husband's "brand" — and distinctly reminiscent of a certain presidential candidate who struggled to free herself from the shackles of her husband's stature (and ego).

One can imagine that had she never pursued her own political career, Hillary Clinton might have ended up like Joan Castleman. The filmmakers intersperse the action with flashbacks to 1958, showing us a 20-ish Joan (Annie Starke) at Smith, where she's the star pupil in a creative writing class taught by dashing young professor and budding novelist Joe Castleman (Harry Lloyd). You know how this story goes: Dazzled by her talent and beauty, Joe seduces Joan; they have an affair, and he leaves his wife and baby to marry her. Joan abandons her ambitions when she realizes that writing, in the 1960s, is basically a male game — and when she senses the threat her own gift poses to the fragile self-esteem of the man she loves.

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