The upside of reviewing films is that you get to spend quiet afternoons in a dark theatre instead of stuck at a desk. The downside is that every once in a while you see a film so affecting that all you want to do is talk about it but no one else has seen it yet. The Wife is one of those films.
Based on a novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, the wife, in this case, is Joan Castleman—played by a brilliant Glenn Close, in perhaps the most captivating role in her career. Joan is married to Joe Castleman, a much lauded novelist who has just found out he's won the Nobel Prize. When Joe receives the good news, Joan celebrates and quietly simmers at once. The undercurrent of Joan's anger plays throughout the film, and the viewer doesn't know why, exactly, she can't fully indulge in her husband's big win. He's been selected to replace Bill Clinton on the cover of TIME (this, along with ample smoking indoors, is one of the few reminders that the film is set in the early '90s). Why can't she just be happy for her man?
The clues come slowly. Like many literary lions of a certain age, Joe, who was Joan's (married) writing instructor at Smith when they met, has long been unfaithful. But is that the root of Joan's rage? We get a hint on the plane to Sweden when the couple is approached by Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), an ambitious biographer who has decided on Joe as the subject of his next book. Joe has no interest in Bone's project and dismisses his attempts to connect, but Joan urges her husband to be kind to the younger man. "There’s nothing more dangerous," she tells Joe, "than a writer whose feelings have been hurt.”
These words foreshadow the big reveal, which I won't ruin for you here. The film, however, is more than just a dark, suspenseful drama. The couple's path from the early days—when Joan, a talented writer on her own, had no chance at a career—to the Nobel ceremony tracks American history and the progress women both have and have not made in the workplace. It may seem incredible to younger viewers that women in the 1950s could hope to be secretaries, nannies, or nurses and not much else, but The Wife reminds us that the past isn't so distant and, what's more, should never be forgotten.
The Wife sticks with you. Watch it with a friend—or, even better, your spouse—so you'll have someone with whom to discuss this Oscar-worthy work of art.