The Wife

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
The Wife Movie Poster Image
Close shines in drama with strong language, adult themes.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 100 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The truth will out -- and it will set you free. Compromising your dreams is likely to leave you bitter and resentful. Believe in yourself and don't let others' opinions of your chances of success define you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Joan is extraordinarily smart, talented, and capable. After spending decades living a lie, she's ready to tell the truth and see where that takes her. But she's also been complicit in the situation she so despises. Joe is a flawed, selfish man who does love his wife but apparently not enough to overcome his baser urges and pride.

Violence

Brief physical confrontation between a father and his adult son. An elderly man suffers a serious cardiac event. Yelling/arguing, with bitter recriminations.

Sex

A sexual encounter between a married couple includes lots of dirty talk. A married professor has multiple affairs (more discussed than shown) and flirts with an attractive student.

Language

Frequent use of "f--k" and variants. With less frequency: "s--t," "c--k," "Jesus f---ing Christ," and "goddamn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking and smoking at parties, bars, cafés, and high-end galas. No one is shown drunk. Discussion of an adult man smelling like pot. A pregnant woman is encouraged to drink champagne.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Wife is a drama geared toward adults about the longtime spouse (Glenn Close) of a newly minted Nobel Prize winner (Jonathan Pryce) -- and the secrets and resentments bubbling beneath the surface of their outwardly happy marriage. It deals with mature themes including infidelity and is decidedly mature in tone. Characters drink and smoke and discuss drug use; there's also flirting, kissing, and a non-explicit sex scene with a fair bit of dirty talk. Language includes frequent use of "f--k" and more.

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What's the story?

In THE WIFE, heralded writer Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) and his wife, Joan (Glenn Close), wake early one morning to the news that he has won the Nobel Prize. With their sullen, aspiring-writer son David (Max Irons) in tow and haunted by a pesky would-be biographer (Christian Slater), the couple go to Stockholm for the ceremony. But the trip unearths long-held resentments and deep, dark secrets as Joan comes to grips with the truth of her feelings about the last several decades of her life. It's an exploration of the bubbling inner life of the "woman behind the great man," with a significant spoiler twist.

Is it any good?

This uneven drama is elevated by Close's award-worthy lead performance. The Wife is guided by a clear intelligence from the page (Jane Anderson adapted it from Meg Wolitzer's novel), which can be both delightful and awkward. The same characters who describe genitalia as "tumescent" or complain of "agita" seem to have trouble spitting out "f--k" (though they still do it quite often). Nail-on-head exchanges add to the "on the page" feeling of the material, as when a male editor in a 1960s publishing house says a manuscript is "great," but it's by a "lady writer" and "from the point of view of this woman," so they move on. Perhaps as a result, some of the performances are conveyed in large gestures … but not by Close. Never by Close.

The decorated veteran delivers one of the finest performances of her storied career as Joan. There's no visible effort to convince us of anything; She simply is that person. Her inner life is remarkable. We see the cracks develop. We see her awakening. For connoisseurs of acting, what Close delivers is a feast. She's loving and resentful and supportive and repressed and fiercely intelligent and bursting to break free. Where, for instance, Slater's fine work is sometimes hamstrung by, shall we say, a lack of subtlety in the writing (not in his acting -- observe his intrusive body language as he speaks ingratiatingly), in the lead, Close hums right over the top of it all. She becomes this fascinating woman.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the strong language in The Wife. Did it surprise you to hear characters like these swearing, or did it make them seem more human and the film more realistic? Did the dialogue in general seem believable to you? Why or why not?

  • Joan is in a prison of sorts. Why do you think she agreed to her arrangement with Joe? Do you think, as things changed over the years, that she could have gotten out of it? Do you consider her a role model?

  • What do you take away from Joan and Joe's relationship? Did they need each other equally? Did they love each other, as you understand love to be?

  • What is the movie's message about believing in yourself and pursuing your dreams? Why did Joan let others discourage her in her youth?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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