Glenn Close has never won an Oscar.
That feels like an odd sentence to have to write, to acknowledge that an actress as venerable as she has, though nominated six times, never taken home Hollywood’s most prestigious recognition of ability and artistry. That the star of Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons, co-star of The Natural and The Big Chill has never been given that most lauded honor.
Her performance in The Wife feels destined to change that. She might be accused of begging, of somehow baiting the Academy into bestowing her the honor—indeed, a superficial viewing might convince you that The Wife is mere Oscar bait—but this is more of a dare.
Close channels every minute of her decades of acting into her role as Joan Castleman, the long-suffering wife of Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), who has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. So much is said with the flick of an eyebrow, the sharp turned gaze, the barely noticeable twitch of a mouth. With so very little she reveals a depth of humanity rarely seen in a cinematic performance these days, acting with the abandon that can only come from a well-spring of bravery that has remained all but hidden throughout her career.
I say that knowledgeable of the weight that it carries. Hers is a career of marvelous highs, and she has never delivered a performance lacking in talent or bravery. Here she has delivered her career best, capturing the subtleties of life, living, and love in heartbreaking, magnificent waves.
And so it seems that she is daring the Academy to award her or to not. She can, clearly, do no more to warrant the honor—though if Alex Forrest or Marquise de Merteuil didn’t warrant it before, what, I ask, will?—than what she has done here, which is nothing short of art.
The Wife is a story as human as it gets, exploring the shadowy pains of a lifetime of love, revealing the festering sores of resentment and betrayal that build up through the decades despite our best efforts to keep them hidden. They never stay that way for long though, do they? Here, the layers of surreptitious bandaging are slowly stripped away, until Joan and Joe can do nothing but stare face to face with themselves, basking in the unhindered truth neither wish to acknowledge.
Shocking, The Wife explores the bedrock of love and light that so often accompanies the poisoned spring of secrets. Witness: a fight in the hotel room over a would-be affair—Joe’s latest in a line that stretches back far—turns on a dime when news of their grandson’s birth reaches them. Truth is, even the most contentious relationships carry a bounty of good times to counterweight the bad. What wins out in the end?
It all depends on how you look at it, and what you do with what you see. The Wife will alternately stun you, delight you, and break your heart. It is a morose romance that doesn’t shy away from the tough realities of a lifetime of love and the secrets that are made along the way. Will Close finally win an Oscar for what she’s done here? None of us can say yet, but clearly it doesn’t matter. Close will continue being Close, which is to say she will continue being an artist of incomparable heights. For that, we are truly blessed.
The Wife is now playing in select theaters.