It is understandably difficult to craft a film about an elderly couple’s entanglement in a book-related drama and sound sexy. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the majority of moviegoers arriving at Michigan Theater for “The Wife” are well past college-aged. At first glance, Björn Runge’s latest flick could easily appear to be nothing more than snooze-inducing documentation of married life in its later years. However, this assumption is far from accurate. Through the enchanting acting of Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce and an intriguing, in-depth exploration of imbalance in love and the over-ruling role of gender, “The Wife” is unanticipated pleasure to watch.
With two beautiful children, Joe’s (Jonathan Pryce, “Tomorrow Never Dies”) success as an author and in a romance that, even in old age, still burns strong, to an outsider looking in, Joe and Joan Castleman (Glenn Close, “Fatal Attraction”) are the embodiment of a perfectly healthy married life. Receiving word that Joe has been awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature, in a frenzy of excitement, the Castleman’s pack their bags and fly off to Stockholm. Upon their arrival, Joe is immediately thrown into the spotlight, receiving five-star treatment from hotel staff, a personal photographer and a major boost to his already bursting ego. Joan, on the other hand, keeps up a reserved demeanor and an unwavering soft smile, situating herself just outside of Joe’s limelight, a position that is perhaps becoming a bit too familiar. As the film unfolds, the reality of the repression and lopsidedness that veil the Castlemans’ relationship gradually comes to light.
Even in the sequences where dialogue is lacking, Glenn Close’s phenomenal acting chops make it near impossible to tear our eyes from the screen. Her ability to masterfully convey emotion with a wavering stare or a purse of the lips, without coming off as cheesy or overdone, creates a chemistry between her character and Pryce’s that feels ridiculously real. After establishing this genuineness, Close has viewers hooked and successfully continues to command their attention for the remainder of the film.
Perhaps even more commendable than Close’s talent is the film’s subtle and intriguing exploration of gender inequality. Flashback sequences of Joe and Joan’s blossoming relationship from years prior emphasizes that elements of the struggle faced by aspiring female authors, Joan included, in a male-dominated industry still persist to present day. In the flashbacks, a group of white, male book publishers express their disinterest in printing a female voice, regardless of her capacity as a writer. Later in the film, Runge includes a powerful, contemporary scene of Joe and his fellow Nobel Prize winners, all of which are, unsurprisingly, old, white men. The incorporation of these two moments makes a clear point about the still-prevalent gender imbalance in the working world. Though the two scenes are separated by nearly 50 years of supposed progress and change, the power dynamic remains intact.
It is true that “The Wife” lies on the slower-side in terms of constant, in-your-face entertainment. However, by touching on such poignant gender themes, the film compensates for its downtempo pace. Not to mention, chock-full of familial and romantic tension that will not induce eye-rolls, this film is its own kind of sexy. While it isn’t saturated with fast-paced action and energy, “The Wife” is a quiet, yet forceful gem that is not to be overlooked.