The Wife (2017)


Glenn Close is superb. The movie isn’t.

Close plays the wife of a winner (Jonathan Pryce) of the Nobel Prize in literature; and sadly, despite Close’s performance, everything about the milieux of The Wife is either implausible or irritatingly simplistic. We are asked to believe that over the decades of novels published under the name of her husband, the wife labored for hours daily as a ghost writer of those novels; never confessed; seldom chastised her philandering and unhealthily pudgy husband, that monumental imposter, and determinedly allowed the subterfuge; kept her son, a would-be writer (and a surly stereotype), from seeing her as the true writer in the family, a deception which destroys his respect for his charlatan father who cannot seem to analyze the son’s work with any profundity let alone encouragement; and almost succeeds in keeping the truth from a highly suspicious, pestering tabloid writer (Christian Slater) seeking to write a biography of her husband as Great Novelist With Warts.

Yes, the problem isn’t Close in her miraculous portrayal, her rising out of the ashes of Jane Anderson’s outlandish script. Ms. Close handles a dubious experience, a false narrative, with mastery and more than a little effect.

Nor is the problem anything essentially implausible in the outlines of this drama of stifling and painful injustices toward women, especially as focused in a long, dogged life in a marital trap.

The problem is that the Hollywood Cliche Writer Story is retrieved from the Used Script Room, the dents pounded out and some smears on the walls touched up with paint, whereupon the following happens: Somebody wins the Nobel Prize but we learn nothing about the writing in question and no one seems remotely concerned; no one says anything even faintly salient about writing serious literature; other writers are portrayed as (this is a form of kindness) “eccentric”; in University writing class, phrases that have nothing to do with other than mere competence are mumbled frequently, such as, “I think your villain is not alive. He’s wooden.” Then there is the imagined Nobel Prize (what a tourist might see): Tuxes, candles, long tables, protocol, bowing to the King of Sweden who will Present, everyone assumed to Know the Literary Canon and have furthered literary scholarship; etc; yawn.

In short: The Wife is about the prevalence of women overcoming injustice and gaining respect, which is more than timely.

But the cliche gets in the way.