Stories about declining marriages have been told for eons, and it’s no different in film. It seems like every week we get a new take on the “marriage in crisis” genre, and The Wife is one more entry in the canon. This one is somewhat reminiscent of Andrew Haigh’s smoldering 45 Years, in that the marriage begins to fall apart during a momentous occasion, and it’s all seen from the wife’s perspective. Haigh’s film is infinitely better in almost every respect, but this formula is more effective than I thought it’d be. For one, it allows for the star to really build an interiority for her character, so that every glance and every sigh retains its significance until the end.
This works to Glenn Close’s advantage, especially since her sole emotional outburst occurs at the very end. Up to that point, she is a more taciturn presence, content to watch and preen her needy husband from the sidelines. Yet there are times you can tell she is close to reaching her breaking point, just by the way she furrows her brows or clenches her jaw. Close doesn’t need to say anything for us to understand that something is brewing within her. That’s good acting.
Close makes everything else here peripheral. The whole plot about her husband accepting a Nobel Prize, the flashbacks to her younger days, Runge’s rather drab style—it all kind of works around Close, and it’s almost as if none of it is happening at all. Quite early on, it’s clear you’re meant to be in a holding pattern, waiting for Close’s Joan Castleman to stand up and say enough is enough. It takes a while to get there, but when the film does, it’s delicious. In fact, it almost makes you forgive the thudding heavy-handedness of the dialogue and symbolism, which is… not good.