The Wife

Posted on August 23, 2018 at 3:24 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Tense emotional confrontations, medical issues, sad death
Diversity Issues: Gender issues
Date Released to Theaters: August 24, 2018
Date Released to DVD: January 28, 2019
Copyright Sony Pictures Classics 2018

The title The Wife is telling. The lead character is not even identified by name, just by her role as helpmeet and support system for her husband, a lauded literary figure who has just been awarded the Nobel Prize. Her name is Joan and his name is Joe, suggesting that the boundaries between them are blurred. It is that blurring this movie explores, with a performance of mingled rage, guilt, passion, and integrity by the magnificent Glenn Close.

When the call comes in from the Nobel committee, Joe (Jonathan Pryce) will not hear the news until his wife, Joan (Close) is on the line to hear it, too. They celebrate by jumping on the bed together. “I did it!” he crows! There is a reception in his honor, and then they are off to Stockholm for the ceremony.

On the plane, a reporter named Nathanial Bone (Christian Slater) approaches them with some questions. Joe dismisses him abruptly but Joan is more conciliatory. Is she genuinely sympathetic? Does she think that a touch of courtesy will result in a a more favorable article? Or has she just been mediating Joe’s interactions with everyone for so long she barely even notices it anymore?

There are flashbacks, with the young Joan played by Close’s daughter, the very appealing Annie Starke, and the young Joe played by Harry Lloyd. She was a talented college student and he was a handsome and charismatic young professor. And it’s the 50’s. It seems natural for her to subordinate her own ambitions to his. In Stockholm, though, she becomes increasingly unwilling to continue to hide her contributions to the work that has made him respected and famous.

Joe and Joan are accompanied on the trip by their son, David (Max Irons), an aspiring writer who is bitter and deeply hurt when his father fails to support his work. But we will see that Joan failed him as well. And in the movie’s most powerful moment, Joan shares a drink with Nathanial, who tells her that he has collected evidence from her college days suggesting that at least some of Joe’s published writing was really Joan’s.

Joan also has to ask herself what she got from the relationship, including her contributions to Joe’s work. Flashbacks reveal reasons that she might have preferred to be the silent partner. As the blending of their names suggests, they may be two sides of one whole, one writing for the approval of the world, one relishing the purity of writing without the burden of being a public figure. Close shows us the steely control of a woman who has not been honest with the world but also has not been honest with herself. Did she ignore her young son to help her husband, or to satisfy her need to write?

The film explores these themes less than it should, but the dynamic between both the older and younger versions of Joe and Joan make it a compelling drama, with a stunning performance by Close as a woman who told other stories for decades and may now need to tell her own..

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, a medical crisis, a sad death, and sexual references and situation.

Family discussion: Why did Joe and Joan perpetuate the lie? Why was it so difficult to give David what he needed? What will happen next?

If you like this, try: some of Close’s other films including “Fatal Attraction,” “In the Gloaming,” and the television series “Damages” and also “What Every Woman Knows,” by the author of “Peter Pan”

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Buy the Screenplay: Sorry to Bother You

Posted on August 23, 2018 at 8:00 am

Copyright 2018 Annapurna Pictures
One of the best films of the year is the wonderfully imaginative and cheekily provocative Sorry to Bother You, written and directed by Boots Riley.  Now you can buy the screenplay  for half price from McSweeney’s, just $10.

It’s also worth taking a look at Boots Riley’s critique of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. He has a lot of respect for Lee, but thought the movie should not have made Ron Stallworth into a hero because in addition to infiltrating the KKK, Stallworth, according to Riley, also infiltrated black activist groups. Stallworth has responded.

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Books Writers

Sophie Gilbert on What’s Wrong With Female Movie Journalists

Posted on August 22, 2018 at 8:00 am

I really appreciate Sophie Gilbert for writing in The Atlantic about something that has bugged me for a long time, the tired cliche of the movie portrayals of female journalists as completely unprofessional, and especially as always sleeping with their sources and subjects.  I complained about this in my review of the Amy Schumer romantic comedy, “Trainwreck.”

Gilbert begins with Amy Adams in “Sharp Objects,” based on a novel by former real-life journalist Gillian Flynn, who should know better.  “At the end of the most recent episode of Sharp Objects, “Falling,” Camille slept with someone who’s 18 years old, a murder suspect, and one of her primary sources.”  Gilbert discusses “House of Cards” and “The Gilmore Girls” and  she goes back to films like “Absence of Malice” with Sally Field and “Thank You for Smoking” with Katie Holmes.

You wouldn’t ever see Rosalind Russell behave so unprofessionally.

Copyright 1940 Columbia Pictures

And, as Gilbert explains, male journalists in movies don’t either. It’s time to find some other storyline for female characters.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

James Hong — From Groucho Marx and Clark Gable to the Eyeball Jar Guy in “Blade Runner”

Posted on August 22, 2018 at 8:00 am

James Hong is one of the few Asian actors who has been successful in Hollywood for decades, and the success of the all-Asian cast of “Crazy Rich Asians” has prompted a great story about him in Deadline.

He has worked on films with Clark Gable (Soldier of Fortune) and in TV with Jane Wyman in one of the only TV episode John Ford ever helmed (The Bamboo Cross) and many, many others, but it was Groucho Marx who gave Hong his start in the most unusual way. Marx had been alerted to a Chinese man out of Minnesota who was an impressionist. Marx booked Hong on his show You Bet Your Life, and Hong — doing spot on impressions of Peter Lorre, Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney and Groucho himself — was a huge hit with television audiences. So much so that Hong landed an agent — with Bessie Loo (the only agent for Asians at that time).

Hong battled racism in the industry and in the portrayals of Asian characters on screen, but too often had to settle for stereotypical parts.

He said the role of Mr. Ping in the Kung Fu Panda film franchise where he does voice over, “was a wonderful peak in my career” because even though it was animated, he was “sort of a leading character. I did the voice as a cross between a Jewish mother and a Chinese waiter.”

Asked what advice he would give to others coming up the ranks, he was adamant: “The young people have to fight and gain more ground. They have to continue to fight for better images and more roles. There are a few roles, but they are still not casting Asians in leading roles like businessmen,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “And I’m sure it will get better because China has all the money.”


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Actors Race and Diversity

Ann Hornaday Updates the Movie Canon

Posted on August 21, 2018 at 8:11 pm

The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday wrote about the new “canon” films, the ones she thinks will be ranked with the best there ever were.  Of course any list or ranking will cause more debate than it leaves out, but it is fun to see which films she thinks will show up “Vertigo” and “Citizen Kane” in future “best of all times” lists.  Her list includes acclaimed films like “Spirited Away,” “Boyhood,” “Children of Men,” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” but what makes it fun to read are her descriptions of what makes each film so memorable.

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