Even if it’s been a while since an actress had her last showcase role in a film, you can’t necessarily count her out.
Especially if the actress in question is one of the talent, intelligence and stature of Glenn Close.
Theater has done much to keep her a prominent performer even when screen roles largely have been lacking. Though a generation now knows her for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” earthbound parts of dramatic substance are the true sweet spots for Close – and it’s cause for celebration, and very possible awards, that she has returned to them with “The Wife.”
Based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer, the story would seem to be at first about the husband played by Jonathan Pryce … specifically, a newly Nobel Prize-honored author who is so celebrated, we’re told he surpassed President Bill Clinton as the choice for a magazine cover. (The story unfolds in the early 1990s.)
The writer may be the showier character here, but it doesn’t take long to determine that his spouse is the true anchor of their relationship. She’s everything he isn’t: classier, more moderate, and a steadying force that he likely would be lost without. Which is not to say that they haven’t had, and don’t have, their problems that are stoked by the questioning of another writer (Christian Slater) who is working on a biography of the husband.
To see Close and Pryce tackle “The Wife” is to watch two hugely accomplished acting veterans relish the opportunity to square off with someone very much his or her equal. With that said, there are reasons the tale is called “The Wife,” and that’s where Close particularly comes out shining from this exercise.
Working from the direction of Sweden’s Bjorn Runge and a screenplay by the esteemed Jane Anderson (“The Baby Dance”), Close folds in traces of some of her most iconic characters – Marquise de Merteuil in “Dangerous Liaisons,” Alex Forrest in “Fatal Attraction,” even just a hint of Cruella de Vil in “101 Dalmatians” – while not leaning so heavily on them that she doesn’t generate a fresh figure in her Joan Castleman here. It’s one of the most rewarding achievements of this movie year, making it completely reasonable to think “Oscar nomination.”
Here’s to Pryce for the sterling work he also imbues it with, but in the end, “The Wife” rates principally as a marvelously Close call.