THE WIFE (2018)

August 31, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. THE STEPFORD WIVES was stocked with some men’s ideal of the perfect spouse … attractive, dutiful, always ready to serve. In director Bjorn Runge’s adaptation of the novel by Meg Wolitzer (screenplay by Jane Anderson), Joan Castleman is all of that and more as she constantly caters to her literary giant of a husband, writer Joe Castleman. It’s 1992 in coastal Connecticut, and in only a few days, things will change dramatically for Mr. and Mrs. Castleman.

When we first meet this long married couple, they are in bed – she’s sleeping soundly, while he’s full of anxiety and anticipation over a phone call that may or may not happen. See, Joe is up for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and when the early morning call from Stockholm does come, Joe eagerly prompts Joan to listen in on the extension (it’s 1992, so these are land lines). As the authoritative voice on the other end announces Joe’s prize, it’s the look on Joan’s face that tells us that, for her, this is no celebratory moment. The facial expression is quite powerful, and it’s our first inclination that 6 time Oscar nominee Glenn Close (as Joan Castleman) is delivering a performance as memorable as her work in DANGEROUS LIASONS and FATAL ATTRACTION (only this time there’s no bunny).

Jonathan Pryce is spot on as the narcissistic Joe Castleman. He’s clearly addicted to the pedestal upon which he sits and the corresponding adoration from worshipping fans. He’s the type of guy who thinks he’s doing Joan a favor by mentioning her in his speeches and calling her over to be part of his oh-so-important conversations. But as good as Mr. Pryce is, this is a tour de force from Ms. Close. She’s always a step ahead of her husband – finding his glasses, ensuring he takes his pills, and monitoring his diet and sleep. It’s the Nobel Prize phone call that stirred some long-suppressed feelings; lighting a fuse that will leave us anxiously awaiting the fireworks.

Max Irons (Jeremy’s son) plays an aspiring writer and son to Joe and Joan. David’s bitterness towards his father is evident throughout and his desperate attempts to gain his father’s respect are nothing short of heart-breaking. Christian Slater plays Nathaniel Bone, a would-be biographer of Joe Castleman … if only Joe would give him the time of day. Nathaniel is often quite intrusive in his pursuit of the truth – at least what he hopes it would be since it would make a fantastic book. Karin Franz Korlof plays Linnea, a young photographer assigned to Joe during the Sweden trip. It’s an odd role as none of the other winners have their own photographer … but not as odd as the small talk amongst the various category Nobel winners. Those scenes, and the verbal exchanges, are as awkward as one might imagine.

Director Runge utilizes flashbacks to 1958 Smith College to provide us a foundation and narrative for the relationship between Joe and Joan. She was once a budding star writer under the tutelage of the young, married professor. Her flirting, babysitting and writing all worked to win Joe over, and they were soon married. Young Joe the professor is played by Harry Lloyd (great-great-great grandson of Charles Dickens), and young Joan is played beautifully by Annie Stark (Glenn Close’s real life daughter). These early days and an encounter with a broken female writer (played terrifically by Elizabeth McGovern) lead Joan to surrender her writing dreams and put her support behind her husband. Shooting down the purity of “a writer must write”, McGovern’s beaten down character instead says “a writer has to be read”.

Glenn Close will likely receive much Oscar chatter for her role. Her transformation from dutiful sidekick to self-enlightenment is a performance laden with subtle and nuanced signs of resentment. Her early disquiet could be compared to a volcano – the inside building towards eruption while the outside remains strong and majestic. Living a lie never becomes truth … even after 30 plus years.

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THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014)

November 18, 2014

theory of everything Greetings again from the darkness. Stephen Hawking would most certainly make anyone’s list of the most fascinating people to have overcome severe obstacles in life to achieve greatness. Even today, at age 72, Hawking remains one of the foremost physicists and cosmologists. His extraordinary mind now 50+ years trapped inside a body that failed him, and as we learn, should have killed him by the time he was 23.

Director James Marsh is known for his work on two documentaries: Project Nim, and Man On Wire. His flair with reality in those two films is mostly kept in check with this conventional biopic. Based on Jane Hawking‘s book “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen”, the film does a nice job of showing us the stages of his motor neuron disease, while never digging too deep into the resulting hardships for Stephen or Jane (his wife).

Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserable, My Week with Marilyn) delivers the type of performance that often results in awards. His physical contortions capture the Hawking we have all seen, yet he also emotes the charm and wry humor that accompanies his genius. Jane is played by Felicity Jones (so terrific in Like Crazy) and since it’s based on Jane’s book, we are provided a glimpse into her strength and tenacity as she refuses to give up on Hawking or their relationship.

Some basic science is touched upon here – mostly through beer foam on a table or the glowing embers from a fireplace, but it’s highly recommended that you read Hawking’s best selling book “A Brief History of Time” if you have not already done so. It’s written using language so clear and concise, that even I almost understood it! Much more than science, this film is about the tenacity of Jane and her ability to keep Stephen moving forward while still pursuing her own studies and raising their three kids.

The evolution of their relationship is deftly handled, even as they each drift away towards others. When the break eventually occurs, it is the one moment in the film where heartfelt emotion is on full display. Oddly enough, it’s more relief for both parties than disappointment. In light of the doctor’s original estimate of two years to live, this moment is quite poignant.

Excellent support work comes courtesy of David Thewlis as Hawking’s professor and mentor, Emily Watson as Jane’s mother, Simon McBurney as Stephen’s dad, Charlie Cox as Jonathan (Jane’s second husband), and Maxine Peake as Elaine (Stephen’s second wife). Also of note, Harry Lloyd plays Stephen’s classmate and friend Brian. Mr. Lloyd is the great, great, great grandson of Charles Dickens.

You can see this one without being intimidated by the science, and instead get a glimpse at Hawking’s challenges and the strength of Jane.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: the personal relationship and struggles of Hawking and his wife are of interest to you.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for some in-depth analysis of Hawking’s genius

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