In sports, there’s continual talk about the best golfer to have never won a major, the best NBA player to have never won a title, etc.
In the movies, Glenn Close may well be the best actress to have never won an Oscar.
That, however, could change when the Academy Awards are handed out early next year, thanks to Close’s brilliant performance in “The Wife.”
She plays Joan Castleman, whom we see jumping up and down on a bed with her husband, Joe (Jonathan Pryce), after he gets an early morning phone call from Sweden informing him that he’s being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
So it’s off to Stockholm for the presentation and the all the surrounding activities, taking the Concorde (the movie’s set in the '90s). The Castlemans are joined by their son David (Max Irons) and, much to their chagrin, Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), a pest of a writer who wants to pen Joe’s biography.
That’s about all there is to the plotline of “The Wife,” for the picture isn’t as much about a series of events that forever change the characters as about the characters themselves, particularly Joan.
Exquisitely conveyed by Close, through her expressions and body language almost as much as her words, Joan is, it appears, the loyal wife of a literary genius — or at least the vain Joe seems to feel that’s his status.
Quiet, elegant and spotlight-avoiding (she even asks Joe not to mention her in his acceptance speech), Joan subtly chafes at the role she is playing. There’s something more under the surface than being the devoted wife and mother, deeply held secrets that begin to be revealed first through flashbacks to Smith College — where the teenage Joan, an aspiring writer, fell in love with her literature professor — then via Nathaniel’s snooping.
Meanwhile, Joe basks in his glory, flirting with the young woman assigned to photograph his every move and devouring the social situations while refusing to talk with the truculent David, an aspiring writer, about the short story he’s sent to his parents to read. Pryce, it should be noted, holds his own with Close in a part that’s less than flattering.
It’s obvious within a few moments that “The Wife” is adapted from a novel. Jane Anderson’s screenplay feels novelistic rather than grandly cinematic as it focuses on tiny revealing details and conversations. Swedish director Bjorn Runge, however, keeps the film from the literary doldrums via editing, pacing and the captivating performances of Pryce and Close.
“The Wife” isn’t an Oscar-season release and isn’t the kind of movie that’s going to draw huge audiences. But Close is so good, and she’s been long deserving of film’s highest award. She’s unlikely to be overlooked come Oscar nomination time. If she gets a nod, I can’t imagine there will be a better performance than that she delivers as Joan.