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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

Glenn Close pays a price to be ‘The Wife’

Glenn Close has been nominated for an Academy Award six times. She's never won. She may be in for a seventh nomination based on her performance in "The Wife," the movie I reviewed this week for Spokane Public Radio:

Joan Castleman has a secret. It’s one she’s kept close for some four decades, and it’s one that most moviegoers will figure out well before the movie she is a major character in – aptly titled “The Wife” – is half over.

That it involves an easy-to-figure-out secret, however, doesn’t minimize Joan’s struggle, which reflects something that 60-something Joan – and many other women, particularly of her generation – have faced all their lives: a sometimes not-so-subtle required call for subordination, both personally and professionally, to the men in their lives.

Joan’s situation, and the choices she believed she had to make to find some sense of voice – not to mention a taste of success – begins in 1958. Then an undergraduate at Smith College, she first meets the man who will become her husband, Joe Castleman, a handsome, somewhat pompous professor as likely to quote Thackeray as to autograph a walnut – the latter being something he gives (we ultimately learn) to his many romantic conquests.

At the movie’s start, though, Joan and Joe are in bed. The year is 1992, and Joe is expecting a phone call. When the call does come, the news is good: Joe is to be awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

Soon they are on a plane to Stockholm, a wintry wonderland of brightly lit hotel rooms and resplendently posh parties in which officials and various hangers-on – including at least one attractive photographer – pay tribute to Joe and the other award recipients. And, of course, Joe loves it.

Joan is less enthused, though it seems fairly clear why: She is The Wife, the assistant, the helper, the mother of the children (a pregnant daughter and a resentful son) and caretaker of her genius spouse. But all that is only half the problem: There’s her secret, remember, and it’s something that is gnawing at her very soul.

The secret is also something that others have begun to suspect, not the least of whom is a would-be biographer of Joe – a guy who is curious to know why Joan, who showed early promise as a writer herself, gave it all up.

Directed by Swedish filmmaker Bjorn Runge, and adapted by screenwriter Jane Anderson from Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel, “The Wife” is both a dialectic on marital relations and a virtual seminar in acting. Prominent among the cast are Christian Slater – where has he been? – as the biographer, and Annie Starke (daughter of six-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close) as the young Joan.

The choice roles, though, are reserved for Close herself and for Jonathan Pryce. The Welsh actor Pryce is perfect as Joe, a man with voracious appetites who acts as if the world is his yet who depends on his wife for everything, particularly – but hardly exclusively – emotional sustenance.

It is Close, though, on whom Runge’s camera focuses. Quiet and reserved, yet forceful and ultimately determined, Close’s Joan reflects a sense of real power behind her all-knowing yet cryptic smile. It’s as if any moment she’s liable to blurt out, “All those honors you’re bestowing on my husband? Well, they belong to me, too.”