Writer Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He and his wife Joan (Glenn Close) find out about this early in the morning: a representative of the Nobel Committee took the trouble to personally tell the writer this news by phone.
Joseph, Joan and their son David (Max Irons), who dreams of becoming a writer, travel to Stockholm to receive an award.
In Stockholm everyone is minding their own business. Joseph frames himself with the photographer Linnea (Karin Franz Korlof), Joan is always very unhappy with something, and David worries about the fact that dad read his story and did not express his own opinion. Joan assures David that the story is excellent, but why should David get mommy’s praise when daddy – a Nobel Prize-winning writer – doesn’t say a word?!
Joseph has to go to an awards rehearsal and expects Joan to come with him, but she refuses to accompany her husband. Instead, Joan goes for a walk around the city, but at the hotel reception she meets biographer Joseph Nathaniel (Christian Slater). Nathaniel persuades Joan to sit with him at the bar and there claims that he knows their family secret: in fact, Joan wrote all of Joseph’s works.
International project. For Norwegian director Bjorn Runge, this is the first English-language film. From the UK – a wonderful actor Jonathan Pryce. From the USA – the magnificent actress Glenn Close, who for this role received the Golden Globe in the nomination “Best Actress (Drama)” and was nominated for “Best Actress” at the Oscars (there was no award yet, so maybe and win; by the way, this is her seventh nomination for this award). The screenplay was written by Jane Anderson, based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer.
The official announcement of the film says, and I quote:
For forty years, Joan Castleman sacrificed her talent, dreams and ambitions so that the figure of her charismatic husband Joe, coupled with his successful career as a New York writer, shone brightly. But on the evening before the long-awaited Nobel Prize, Joan decides to reveal her husband’s secrets.
Well, it’s not in the movie. She does not decide to reveal the secrets of her husband, the intrigue is not at all in this. The fact that Joan wrote his famous books for her husband is somehow mentioned almost at the very beginning of the film, and this is not a spoiler.
And what, you ask, is the intrigue? This is what I didn’t really understand. Joan is tired of the fact that all the glory goes to her husband, and she has been in his shadow all her life – well, she lived like this for forty years, you could get tired earlier and do something about it. That Joseph himself is not a man of outstanding spiritual qualities and at times looks simply ridiculous, especially if you know that he did not write these famous books – well, she also knows this for forty years.
There are several flashbacks in the film that show the story of their acquaintance. Joe Castleman (good role of Harry Lloyd) teaches literature, young Joan Archer (Annie Stark) is his student. Joan writes very well and Joe admits it. They begin an affair, during which Joe gives Joan his novel to read (not a tautology, more of a clumsy pun), and Joan was struck by how, in fact, Joe writes badly. No, he knows how to invent a plot, but the descriptive part, the dialogues – this is generally no good.
Joe was struck to the heart by the criticism. How so?!! She loves him! Love me, love my romance too, as Joe hints. Joan answers this with a rather vulgar, in my opinion, phrase: “The fact that I do not like your novel does not mean that I do not love you” – and after that she sits down to rewrite everything with her brisk pen.
In addition, during a meeting with one lady writer (Elizabeth McGovern), she tells Joan that, they say, baby, no one needs women writers. We, the unfortunate aunt-writers, cannot raise real circulation in this male chauvinistic world.
(At this point, even the cat Bublik hiccupped nervously and remembered Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Mary Shelley, Agatha Christie, Margaret Mitchell, Astrid Lindgren, Aurora Dupin (she, however, as you know, wrote under the pseudonym George Sand), Charlotte Brontë, Ursula Le Guin and JK Rowling – yes, girls, but where can we, writers, break through in this harsh masculine world, there is nothing to even try.)
Well, as a result, she wrote books for her husband all her life. And her husband helped with the housework, drove the children away from the doors of her office, put on a tuxedo and went to receive literary awards. Did that suit her for forty years? So what is now something no longer satisfied? She only now realized that her husband is a pompous and rather primitive womanizer? Tell me what a great discovery!
The whole movie shows us how unhappy Joan is with all this fuss with the Nobel Prize. Well, yes, if this is how it all happens in reality, then this pompous ceremony looks a little silly. However, I will make a reservation that I have never been awarded the Nobel Prize, so I am writing all this out of banal envy. Accept an award, bow to the king, bow to the stalls, bow to committee members on stage – all this looks very comical.
However, according to the film, Joan is dissatisfied not so much with the ceremony itself, but with the very fact that the award was presented to Joe. She is especially unhappy that Joe mentioned her in his Nobel speech, calling her his support, his hope, his muse and his sushi-pusi. And why was she so angry?
All this was completely incomprehensible to Bublik and me. What, as they say, is the point? She wrote books for her husband all her life and no one knew about it? Well, he doesn’t seem to know. What is there to worry about? Do you think you should step out of the shadows? Well, tell everything to this jackal-journalist Nathaniel – he will ring the whole world.
And their infantile son is still hanging around – you see, dad did not say anything about his story. And what are you whining about in this idiotic family? Go write the next story, you bastard. Papa won’t say anything, papa doesn’t understand a damn thing about literature, he just needs to show off to the starlet.
All this looks very strange and very indistinct. There is no intrigue, family quarrels at the level of ordinary fatigue from each other of two people who have lived together for forty years, there is no answer to the question of why on earth she began to write for her husband, and not for herself. But aunts can’t break through in this matter – don’t make me laugh, guys! The central message is completely ridiculous.
No, of course, I understand, a hot topic: male chauvinism, this brilliant woman has been in the shadow of her husband all her life – such things impress film academics, but how! But it didn’t make any impression on me. Apparently, because I’m not a film academic.
I’ll tell you a terrible secret: I was bored watching it. And the actors are excellent, and the production is done quite decently, and Slater’s cunning physiognomy slightly dilutes this melancholy (by the way, I immediately remembered “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles”, where Slater also played a journalist-interviewer), but in general – left me perplexed.
The same year, the recent French film “He and She” about the piggy writer Victor Adelman – it is noticeably more cheerful. And the fact that, in fact, his wife wrote all the books for him, we learn only at the very end of the film, and this is said extremely indistinctly and it does not explain why Victor wrote his best book at the moment when he broke up with his wife .
Here it is boring, illogical and uninteresting. Jonathan Pryce plays somehow without a twinkle, but it is understandable – due to the obvious script inexpressive character himself. Glenn Close is trying with might and main, but she also failed to show why her heroine was so self-denying, and if she was, then why she was suddenly so tired of it. And if she suddenly got so tired of it, then why didn’t she end it.
In general, we were not hooked with the cat Bagel, disappointed. But we continue to wait for films about asshole writers (possibly with Jewish surnames), we are very interested in this topic.
Wife / The Wife movie meaning
Director: Bjorn Runge Cast: Glenn Close, Christian Slater, Jonathan Pryce, Elizabeth McGovern, Richard Cordery, Harry Lloyd, Max Irons, Annie Stark, Johan Wiederberg, Karin Franz Korlof
Worldwide gross: $18 million
Drama, UK-Sweden-USA, 2017, 99 min.