I saw The Wife on the big screen with my partner and a friend (male) the three of us over 80 years old.
It was remarkable that the three of us had to say something immediately at the end, even before getting up from our seats. The friend said: That was really bad film making, I said: She was amazing but I did not believe in her at all. I was surprised to hear my husband say: It is the first time that I laugh at a death.
I skimmed the gushing reviews online to find an echo of our disparaging spontaneous responses.
Rotten Tomatoes gave it 85%, and Metacritic 77% and some reviewers declared that Close deserved an Oscar . But it was comforting to find some critics whose opinions were the same as ours.
Although the death of the main character was not considered as funny, some critics found a comic element in the film. Bradshaw writes : In this hugely enjoyable dark comedy (The Guardian). Also Kermode: In The Wife, an intriguing (if occasionally contrived) tragicomic drama…
Forgetting Close’s performance, the film was justly criticised for its poor cinematography.
Slant magazine’s Semerene : …As such, pairing an actress of Close’s caliber with such banal material makes everything that isn’t articulated by Close herself feel like soap-operatic redundancy.
Walter Adding San Francisco Chronicle : It would be wrong to say Closes’s performance in the Wife is wasted, but it certainly deserved a better movie.
And from a top French critic: F. Levesque in Le devoir : Tout du long, Runge recourt à une grammaire cinématographique rudimentaire (« épurée », si l’on se sent charitable). Quoi qu’il en soit, ce qui promettait d’être une sombre méditation psychologique se meut en mélodrame appuyé….Une héroïne de la trempe de Joan méritait plus de panache.
I perceived the film as a bad family melodrama with its conflicts and classical violent outbursts. However I just could not understand why I found Close’s performance so impressive while not believing in her as a likely character. It is the Scotsman’s Harkness that gave me a clue:
The pain and resilience that frequently flashes across her face may be redolent of someone resentful about having to suppress her own ambitions, but there’s an ambiguity there too, suggestive of someone more ruthlessly complicit in her own fate than she’s willing to let on. Here, Close instinctively understands the lingering power of inscrutability, so it’s too bad the film doesn’t. It spells things out that don’t need spelling out and, come the climax, turns the story soapy instead of matching the intelligence of its star.
It is this ambiguity that did not convince me. It is the power of Close’s acting the role of a very strong, capable woman behind a compliant wife that I just did not believe in throughout. It is not that this situation does not occur in real life but neither the narrative, nor the mise-en-scene support this situation.
I know that the film deserves a closer analysis. After all Joan is a grandmother and the ‘old woman’ was the subject of my blog but the dvd is not yet released and there are many films featuring old women that I need to view. More relevant my free time is shrinking at an alarming rate.
However Geoffrey Macnab’s review in the Independent (27th september) corresponds exactly to my reading : The Wife demands a giant leap of faith from its audience. It defies credibility that such a strong-willed figure would ever accept second best as meekly as the film implies https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/the-wife-review-glenn-close-jonathan-pryce-a8556291.html
This difference of interpretation between most top reviewers and some viewers does raise the question of Stuart Hall’s dominant, negotiated and oppositional readings. A study of the reactions to this film of the general public would be extremely interesting.
I read your comments re The Wife with great interest – the day before I missed the full film but spent some time watching several trailers. I was already getting suspicious that, despite Close’s excellent acting, it’s just a bunch of cliches. It’s easy to stereotype many marriages as male-dominated, repressive and limiting towards the woman etc – but in real life, with every life-changing decision, the trick is to think is – OK, what’s in it for me ? if that person wants to use me, how do I use them ? Treat the situation or person as a balance sheet, tick all boxes and add up at the end. I am sure many people do this but few have the guts to say so – especially re. marriage which, these days is supposed to be one big lifelong romance. Marriage was recognised in the past as having huge functional elements (eg children, economic/political/social advantages) and this is much more realistic. It’s still true today but not OK to say so. One reviewer wrote ‘complicit’ which would give much scope for lively discussion. So I shall shall not buy the DVD but shall wait for it on TV – and I look forward to your next film at EON !
Thanks for the comment Angela. There are so many issues to discuss about marital relationships but so little is exposed in the film. Certainly the view of a balance sheet is very interesting but is not hinted at by the narrative or the flashbacks as I point out.
Close came across as a martyr to me. I knew from the the beginning of the film from the look on her face that she was deeply unhappy. I thought she held that look, a combination of sadness and anger until the end.