Joan Castleman seems like a “Stand By Your Man” woman.
But as her story unfolds, we discover there’s much more to “The Wife” than a chronicle of someone who looks on adoringly.
Castleman (played by Glenn Close) is the wife of a newly named Nobel Prize winner for literature. The two get the news early one morning and drink in the achievement before the mob of friends and press descends.
Then, it’s a lot of fuss for him (Jonathan Pryce) while she stands silently by, deflecting any praise that might come her way.
In snippets of their lives, we learn he’s a serial philanderer. Joan became the second Mrs. Castleman and, in the subsequent years, has had to put up with other women interested in taking her place.
An annoying fan (Christian Slater) wants to write Joe Castleman’s biography. But no one – least of all Joan – wants that to happen. Sitting several rows behind them on the plane to Stockholm, he presses but Joan pushes back. He tries at the hotel, too, and, finally, she agrees to have a drink.
Through his exposition (and Jane Anderson’s telling screenplay), we learn plenty about the family dynamic. Joan was one of Joe’s students – an excellent writer who put her own career on the shelf to help his.
Two children (including a son who never gets praise from his father) flesh out the dynamic, providing cracks in the well-tended façade.
Director Bjorn Runge doesn’t obsess over the excitement surrounding the prize, but focuses on the quiet moments when she tends about his clothes and he dodders on about his speech.
A master of looks, Close says plenty with glances, sly smiles and raised eyebrows. She doesn’t need words. She knows how to speak volumes.
Pryce, meanwhile, expounds on everything, giving us another side of the relationship. He’s lost without her, particularly when she tries to shut down any mention of her contributions.
Clearly, there’s something to hide.
While Judi Dench could have played Joan in a heartbeat, Close soars because she’s going back to those techniques that first endeared her to audiences. She’s a person you’d like as a friend – discreet and loyal – and she has a story that’s compelling. She’s Pat Nixon without the political baggage.
Pryce is great, too, particularly when we learn his secrets.
Anderson doesn’t skimp on moments; Runge capitalizes on the insignificant.
Together, the whole creates a portrait that could be more common than you think. “The Wife” longs for consideration.