Glenn Close has been nominated for an Academy Award six times, and there’s a fair-sized contingent of critics and prognosticators who think she could get a seventh nod for “The Wife.”
It would be doubly appropriate, since Close plays a character whose talent is unappreciated — and because, if she’s nominated, it will be for a performance that’s far superior to everything going on around her.
In this adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s novel, Close plays Joan Castleman, the dutiful and doting wife of acclaimed author Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). As the story begins in 1992, Joe and Joan get some momentous news: Joe has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. They celebrate at their Connecticut home, with their children David (Max Irons) and Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan), and a room full of well-wishers.
On the plane to Stockholm, Joe and Joan are chatted up by Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), a journalist who has researched Joe’s career in detail. Nathaniel is a bit miffed that Joe regularly turns down pleas to write the great man’s biography, but the journalist is undaunted, and aims to use this trip to Sweden to prove himself to the Castlemans.
Everything is not well in the Castleman family, though. David, himself a writer, strains to squeeze a drop of appreciation from his father. Joan notices Joe flirting with a pretty photographer (Karin Franz Körlof), which dredges up memories of Joe’s past affairs. And Nathaniel tells Joan he thinks he’s uncovered a secret about Joe that, if true, could rock the literary world.
Joan used to be a writer, we learn in flashbacks, when a young Joan (Annie Starke, Close’s real-life daughter) was a student at Smith College. Joe (played as a young man by Harry Lloyd) was her professor, and married to his first wife. Joe is impressed with Joan’s writing ability, and Joan is taken with his attention, and — well, they’re married 40 years later, so it’s clear where things are going.
Alas, even if you haven’t read Woiltzer’s book, it’s clear where the entire story (adapted by “Olive Kitteridge” screenwriter Jane Anderson) is going. There is a clockwork predictability to each revelation, each twist, each argument, as director Björn Runge lays them out.
What’s more surprising, though, is how thoroughly lived-in Close’s performance is. In stillness or in full rage, every one of Joan’s disappointments, resentments and thwarted ambitions play out across her delicately expressive face. It’s a quietly devastating performance that itself may be in for a few awards.
Opened August 17 in select cities; opens Friday, Sept. 14, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake Cty) and Megaplex Jordan Commons (Sandy). Rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 100 minutes.