THE ARTIST’S WIFE
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Tom Dolby
Screenwriter: Nicole Brending, Tom Dolby, Abdi Nazemian
Cast: Lena Olin, Bruce Dern
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/28/20
Opens: April 3, 2020
Memo to women asked to give up promising careers to support their husband’s rise to prominence: think twice before doing this. No, don’t even think about it. You have a responsibility to develop your own talents. If you want to give some time to aiding the man in your life, fine. (Of course you want to be reasonably sure that you have the talent to get your own fifteen minutes of fame.)
The principal character, Joan Castleman, is like the title woman in Björn Runge’s 2017 movie the wife—that’s the woman who wrote the books credited to her husband who won the Nobel that she should have picked up. Claire Smythson (Lena Olin) gave up her potential in order to support the career of her world-famous painter husband Richard Smythson (Bruce Dern). This is the kind of story that is up the alley of director Tom Dolby, whose sophomore movie recalls his work on “Last Weekend,” whose Celia Green (Patricia Clarkson), a wealthy matriarch, is forced to reevaluate her role in the family. In both cases, it’s better late than never.
In “The Artist’s Wife,” Richard is as narcissistic as Jonathan Pryce’s character, Joe Castleman in “The Wife.” They live in a luxurious, modern California house, one large room devoted to the large canvasses that absorb the dramatic colors of Richard’s contemporary paintings. Not all is well. For one thing, Richard has never “been there” for his estranged daughter, Angela Smythson (Juliet Rylance), nor does his six-year-old grandson Gogo (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) have memories of the celebrity artist. Angela’s stepmother, Claire, has triple duty. She has spent much of her life supporting her famous husband’s career; she is trying to bring Angela back into the family fold; and now she must cope with her husband’s progressing dementia. For his part, the Alzheimer’s-sufferer is acting off-the-wall, delivering profanities to his class of young painters, even smashing the work of one of the young men in the group. In one scene he has trashed his own living room, leaving Claire to pick up the pieces just as she is trying to deal with the new challenges of her aging husband.
Tom Dolby, using a script that he co-wrote with Nicole Brending and Abdi Nazemian, could have tured this into a soap, particularly given the sometimes obtrusive piano pounding on the soundtrack, but instead lifts the material into art in a way similar to that exercised by Eugene O’Neill in his classic family drama “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” In a triumphant conclusion Claire may be on the way to giving herself some of the fame that her husband might never have enjoyed save for the loving support of his wife. And with a sensitive, nuanced performance by the classically trained, Stockholm-born Lena Olin in a drama that opens as a chamber piece, then brings in other members of the extended family, “The Artist’s Wife” is likely to be compared favorably to the award-winning “The Wife.”
95 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+