It's rated R because the f-word is thrown around pretty willy-nilly. These characters are terrible people. But they mostly refer to their misdeeds as opposed to actually seeing their misdeeds. Motifs of infidelity and lies are pretty standard. Apparently, intellectuals can still be smokers, despite the fact that I believe that smoking is on its last legs (pun intended). There's some drinking. Rated R.
DIRECTOR: Björn L. Runge
I'm going to have to play some serious catch-up. I know that I post a lot. I watch a lot of movies, especially during Oscar season. But the Oscars are on Sunday and my kid's birthday is on Saturday. There are still many Oscar nominees that I still have to write about, so I'm going to try to increase the output somehow. If I don't make it, I don't make it. I'm just very goal oriented and I want to have everything up and ready for the Academy Awards. I remember that I was writing Moonlight while the Academy Awards were going one year. I don't want to have to do that again.
I went right from Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a movie about a writer, right into The Wife. Two of the Best Actress pictures are about writers and I really want to be officially a writer. Look at me, reaching above my station. The impertinence! I think that The Wife might be one of the more depressing films about writing that I ever crossed. I think I might have to go into spoilers because much of the movie is based around the turn. I don't deny that there are some really impressive performances in this movie. I understand that's why it got the attention. Unlike Can You Ever Forgive Me?, I can actually support the Academy's decision not to nominate this film for Best Picture. It's very good and I really enjoyed it, but there's something just a bit too simple to make it a Best Picture contender. (In the back of my mind, it honestly might be the poster / font combination. How does such a movie get such weak distribution advertisement?) I'm glad I knew nothing about this movie going in. I really did. This movie really hinges on the idea that there are twists and turns coming in the narrative. The beginning of the film is wonderfully misleading. My wife told me what the movie was about, but I didn't believe her. I guess I should realize the irony of such a statement when a movie is called The Wife, that perhaps I should listen to my wife more often. But the first third to first half of the film, I was wondering why the film was called what it was. Their relationship seemed ideal. For the first half of the film, the movie almost focuses on Joe, who is played phenomenally by Jonathan Pryce. He's living the life I want when I'm his age. He's got multiple books published. One of them is so good that he's getting the Nobel Prize. (Yeah, none of my books would do that. I can reach beyond my station, but just slightly above my station.) His wife seems supportive. Glenn Close, as Joan, seems thrilled for Joe. Considering that I didn't listen to my actual wife about what the movie was about, I thought that the movie was about how small slights and rude moments can build up over the course of a marriage. Nope. Way off.
The misdirection of the first act or two give such a contrast to the actual revelations of the film. The movie, shifting between two time periods (the present and the Nobel Laureate induction and the origins of their relationships) both kind of confirm that Joe's biggest fault is that he seems put upon by others and is remarkably cocky. As someone who is remarkably cocky, I didn't mind that as much. But the theme of genius leading to infidelity is also a common one. Again, I can't stress that this movie wants to tease that it is something that it is not. Joe is constantly built up by every character in the movie as this great genius that, when the (BIG SPOILER HERE) reveal happens that Joan pretty much wrote everything and that he just proofread it, it redefines everything that happened in the first act or two. It's such a bombshell that I almost don't know how it works. A lot of that comes from Joan's personality. Let me establish: I love how this movie plays out and I think it is extremely successful in pulling off something very impressive. But I also want to play Devil's Advocate a little bit and maybe expose some of the things that may irk some people. Joan's reaction at the beginning confuses me. Joan and Joe seem to exist in a state of self-delusion. Joe really does feel like he is the great writer. From moment one of their relationship, their dynamic has always been that Joe was this great professor of writing. He is confident and critical. He is extremely flirtatious, but we don't really understand Joan's abilities. After all, the only piece of writing that we are exposed to before the reveal is a clear description of Joe's first wife. It seems kind of easy. He's also extremely dismissive of the whole thing --which, in retrospect, makes sense for his character. But we are limited by what information we possess before that point. The movie constantly tells us that Joe is a genius so it is surprising when he is not. He's scummy, sure. But scummy and genius are not mutually exclusive. When Glenn Close gets on that line, I never see pride in herself. I see pride in Joe. I really want to see it both ways. I wish that I could view that scene thinking that she is really proud of herself. But the end really stresses that she is not delusional about Joe's lack of talent. She is almost unburdened by her confession. If I'm fighting this battle, as it seems that I am, I could say that she's happy for Joe because she knows that it will bring him joy. She oddly loves Joe.
I don't know what the movie is saying about love. That end really throws me for a loop. Joe's a turd. He consistently cheats on his wife in the lamest possible way. Also, why is Linnea into him? Like, really? Is it because he is a Nobel Laureate? I mean, sure, it's a heck of a thing to throw onto your CV, but she's hanging out with Nobel Laureates all of the time, right? When she's asked to be the photographer for the Nobel Institute, you'd think that she'd be bored with Nobel Laureates. Also, reminder that one of the misdirected themes is that genius gets bored easily. Shouldn't she be constantly put upon by these Laureates? I'm confused on how this worked and why I kept capitalizing "laureates". But using the walnut to hit on ladies is just the worst. The first walnut made sense. Joan wrote about finding that walnut and then Joe wrote the really bad rough draft of The Walnut. But the actual walnut is not his thing anymore. Why would he use that? I know. I know the answer and I don't know why I keep using these rhetorical questions. He believes that The Walnut is his. He honestly believes that. There are these moments in the movie where Joe completely understands the dynamic between his wife's writing and his own. He takes care of the children and bemoans his lesser stature in the relationship. But he also completely capitalizes on that fame. He believes that he wrote these books. He treats his wife in private as though he wrote these books. The scene on the plane when he's desperately looking over notes and planning his next novel is very confusing in that sense. The play acting that they do is almost meant to be for a viewing audience. There are people sitting around them. Christian Slater is constantly bothering them. But it doesn't feel like this is "keeping up appearances". This feels like this is their dynamic. It could explain why Joan is put out by Joe's incessant requests to look over the work. She probably knows that it is trash and a waste of her time.
David, Joan and Joe's son, is the worst. I'm sorry. Partly, he's supposed to be the worst. He's part of the illusion of the whole magic trick. We're so busy looking at how David sucks that we don't see that David might not be completely in the wrong. But he is. Okay, I'm going to try to take David's side because that's the role of analysis. He's lived in his father's shadow his entire life. His father has been dismissive of his writing and nothing that David does is good enough. Joe, as a means to disguise his own mediocrity, criticizes David. I actually now think that Joan mentioned that the manuscript is pretty great. Okay, I take it all back. David is the product of his father's insecurities. That said, he's a turd throughout. I'm sorry. I don't think I've ever sympathized with a tragic character less. David keeps intentionally ruining every moment with his obsession with people liking him. But this also leads to some really weird family dynamics. Immediately after Joan discovers that Joe tried seducing his photographer, they get a call saying that they are grandparents. It solved everything. What is the message here? Is this moment defining what they consider family? What they consider healthy? (The fragment was for dramatic effect.) David sucks. Joe cheats. The women in the family are the ones who are carrying the lineage and keeping things together. But why is Joan staying? She throws all of these accusations at Joe about how she uses their pain to write. But why does she? She seems to hate the writing. Her work is really tragic and comments on the awfulness of their relationship. She has to constantly view her pain with someone else's name on top. If she left Joe, she wouldn't be in the pain that she had. She could write. I still don't completely relate to the choices made throughout.
The Wife is a great movie with its challenges. Like The Prestige, the film almost treats the reveal as a magic act. For the most part, a lot of it works. But like a good magic trick, the movie has to lie to its audience to make a lot of it really work. But regardless, it is worth a watch. I enjoyed it quite a bit. My wife found sections of it boring, so keep in mind that this might not be everyone's cup of tea.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.