Watching Glenn Close in The Wife is like waiting for a long-simmering teapot to explode.
The film is available now on digital, DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Close — who plays the wife of an acclaimed author who’s had more influence on his success than anyone knows — has cleaned up during awards season, garnering Screen Actors Guild, Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe awards, among other plaudits.
It’s a performance that also happens to capture the zeitgeist.
“We just happen to have gotten the movie made right on the cusp of the Times Up movement, so finally, the magical slot where pissed off women are the new black,” noted screenwriter Jane Anderson, who adapted the novel by Meg Wolitzer.
The story follows Joan and Joe Castleman, married for nearly 40 years, as they experience the pinnacle of Joe’s success as a novelist when he wins the Nobel Prize. Through flashbacks with a young Joe and Joan, the audience is privy to just how much of that success is attributable to Joan, who makes a pact with the man she loves to achieve their respective desires.
Close’s daughter Annie Starke plays the young Joan, a part she wasn’t initially keen on playing.
“Honestly, when I was first approached about it, I was like no, no, no, no, no,” Starke said.
But as a fan of Anderson’s and after reading the book, her two grandmothers came to mind.
“They were both married quite young, and they took a back seat to my grandfathers,” she said. “My dad’s mom in particular had an extraordinary career. She was a chemist in the 1940s. She actually worked on the Manhattan Project and when she got pregnant, she got fired, and she also worked for GE and was part of the team that literally invented fluorescent lighting.”
Her other grandmother, her mother’s mom, had regrets.
“She never went to college,” Starke said. “She was truly one of the most brilliant women that I’ve ever had the honor of knowing.
“When she was older and unfortunately about to pass she told my mom, she told me, ‘I haven’t done anything with my life.’ And still to this day I get heart pangs when I think about it. And so honestly it was a project that made me think about the incredible women that I have the honor of saying that I am related to and for this to be, at least for me, an homage to who they were. I think I would have been an absolute idiot to have passed that up, and I’m so glad that I didn’t.”
Close and her daughter collaborated on the character.
“We had hours of conversations,” Starke said, including “a lot of deep conversations about who Joan is, what makes her tick.”
Playing the younger version of a woman played by your actual mother involved seeing her parent in a new way, Starke added.
“I would just straight up observe my mom,” Starke said. “I tried to get her mannerisms a little bit, like her way of walking. We kind of sized each other up in ways we never sized each other up before.”
Novelist Wolitzer noticed the way the actors and filmmakers changed things to translate the book to film.
“The quiet in the film was so amazing to me because the book, if you read the book, is not a quiet book. It’s kind of loud. She’s kind of letting loose. She’s letting it rip for the first time, and you’re present for it,” Wolitzer said. “It was so interesting how so much was in this quiet space.”
She said she found herself searching over the actors’ faces because the “actors really kind of convey [the emotions in the book] through the face.”
Close, in particular, added her own touch to the screenplay.
“I rewrote that final scene about three times,” Anderson said, incorporating notes from Close about how a long-married couple might shift from intimacy to anger.
“Writing for Glenn is a really exciting process, because she doesn’t give up,” Anderson said.
“As the writer of a novel, to have your book made into a film by such major talent in every major part is a true honor,” Wolitzer said.