Reel Dad: Glenn Close electrifies in The Wife

The lady simply watches.

She is so well practiced in the role she plays — supporting the star performer as he captures all the attention — that she comfortably steps onto her tiny stage without needing rehearsal. She has little dialogue to remember because the star rarely lets her speak. And few people in the crowd care what she thinks. Or what she knows.

In the captivating film The Wife, a lady named Joan rarely misses a cue in a performance perfected for most of her married life. Her husband — a renowned writer with an ego to match — absorbs most of the energy in any room he enters, leaving Joan little oxygen for her specific needs, her deliberate wants. She ensures the spotlight always shines on him, routinely making certain he hits his marks to receive the adoration he expects. Joan manages his medication, selects his clothes, ignores his insults and indiscretions, and sustains her well-projected façade in front of family and associates. But something stirs beneath her well-poised surface. Something real. Pointed. And deeply personal.

Without feeling sorry for Joan, or casting her husband as the enemy, The Wife paints a picture of a marriage defined by compromises negotiated over many years. The routine is as predictable as the dialogue in the arguments, born from years of repetition. Little surprises this couple until, when the husband is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the carefully-constructed veneer begins to crack as years of secrets and lies start to emerge. Somehow the happy ending guaranteed by professional success starts to ring less than true. And Joan’s eyes tell the entire story.

Based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer, The Wife explores the scar tissue relationships can generate. But the film refuses to take sides. There are no heroes, no villains, only victims. Because director Bjorn Runge steadies the drama at such an even tone, he never exaggerates the emotional richness smoldering beneath the surface. Instead he keeps the lid on the tensions that dare to boil. The result is a simmering collection of feelings, disappointments and regrets as people try to navigate pathways they spent years trying to avoid. The film creates its own claustrophobia as the characters search for opportunities to breathe. But Runge refuses to deliver enough air to sustain the illusions.

For Glenn Close, The Wife is a triumph, a master class in the subtleties of nuance and expression that mold an unforgettable portrayal. Not since her Hollywood heyday of Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons in the 1980s has Close been so riveting on screen, so commanding in presence, so touching in expression. And it’s a performance in the eyes. With minimal dialogue, Close creates a complete portrait of a woman who has constructed her own sense of neglect, and identity, by making herself a prisoner in her own world. It’s an understated performance that, hopefully, will be remembered at Oscar time.

Yes, the lady watches. And, when we watch Glenn Close in this performance, we can’t get enough.

Film Nutritional Value: The Wife

  • Content: High. Moviemaker Bjorn Runge creates a fascinating view of how a private woman must process public complexities.
  • Entertainment: High. Despite the serious tone and content, the film delivers memorable movie entertainment thanks to the caring of its approach and the superlative star performance.
  • Message: High. As strong as the film’s content, it’s the portrayal from Glenn Close that makes the most of the movie’s strong foundation.
  • Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk with older children about the complexities of relationships can be welcome.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After sharing this film with older children, take time to ask how they might react to such intense situations.

The Wife runs 1 hour, 40 minutes, and is rated R for language and some sexual content. 4 Popcorn Buckets. 

Albert Nobbs: Glenn Close leads touching tale

With The Wife, Glenn Close could receive her seventh Oscar nomination. She earned her sixth nod in 2011 for the drama Albert Nobbs.

In the film, a man walks into the room unnoticed, trying to do his work without bringing attention to himself. At first, this seemingly unselfish butler in 19th century Ireland appears only to understand every subtlety of professional servitude. But something lives beneath the image he carefully creates. And, in a world yet to learn how to listen to women, the rigor required of a man in service may be the safest place to hide.

Adapted from the novella by George Moore, Albert Nobbs takes us to a time when a woman could not reveal feelings that did not conform with public expectations. For a female aware of her love for women, and no channels to express her sexual identity, the only choice is to submerge herself into a fictional male identity that she makes painfully real. When we look into Albert’s eyes we see a life filled with denial, a sadness that emerges from the distance he must maintain to be safe, and a pain that reaches beyond the routine he meticulously manages. Only when confronted by another woman who also pretends to be a man, for the same reasons, does this magical little fella slowly confront the dreams she has harbored for all her life.

Playing Albert offers Glenn Close the chance to remind us how much we love watching her on screen. This lovely actress — so effective in The Wife — gives the character life and hope that she must perfectly hide. It’s a masterful portrayal. We see, in her eyes, all that Albert must do to keep his impersonation on track while, deep inside, a woman bursts with emotional intensity; Close beautifully captures what someone must sacrifice to place keep such combustible feelings from igniting. Janet McTeer strongly registers as a woman more at ease with herself, and the need to disguise her identity, to build a life with a woman she loves. How the two women manage their realities, in such different ways, gives the film its inner tension.

As a film, however, Albert Nobbs is not as strong as its subject matter nor these performances. Director Rodrigo Garcia seems to treat the work with too much concern with getting it right that he dilutes the spontaneity the material requires. He is so careful in telling the story that the film can feel as rigid as Albert’s posture. If only the director had let the film breathe as its characters search for fresh air.

Even so, the film is worth seeing for the power of his actresses and the relevance of the story. We’d like to think, in 2018, that we live in a world where people can simply be, without judgment. But we are still a world where sidewalks are filled with people who must hide in order to live. Albert Nobbs reminds us that when a world fails to embrace who people are, everyone in that world loses the chance to know someone very special.

Albert Nobbs, which runs 113 minutes, is rated R.

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