A Male Chauvinist Combo
It must drive producers crazy when two films with the same plot arrive on theater screens within shouting distance of each other. Such is the fate of two new movies, (Colette & The Wife) the first an examination of the French feminist writer of the early 20th century and the second an adaptation of American novelist Meg Wolitzer’s book of the same name. Both share a story line focused on male suppression & appropriation of female creativity. Both reach the same conclusion: such men are pompous creatures, perfectly capable of exploiting the talents of their spouses.
Colette is the most interesting of this pair; it’s a dewy exploration of a middle-class provincial woman whose publisher husband took personal credit for the first 4 books she actually wrote. The appropriate wasn’t merely creative; he also kept all the profits from his wife’s work when she exposed his duplicity. The movie benefits from a large production that provides elaborate attention to period detail, which compliments the performance of Keira Knightly in the leading role. Writer/director Wash Westmoreland and his partner Richard Glatzer focus their screenplay on Colette’s early career, but fail to get beyond its titillating details. The results are visually sophisticated but dramatically shallow. Television’s Dominic West (The Affair, The Wire) plays Colette’s husband Willy while Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark) appears fleetingly as a wealthy beauty from New Orleans who joins in a ménage a trios, with the unscrupulous Willy’s tutelage, and his exploited wife.
The Verdict? Sumptous to look at, but all of this would have much more interesting had it appeared as an extended tell-all magazine article in Vanity Fair.
Glenn Close consistently draws praise for her ability to convey pent-up emotions in her uniquely demonstrative manner, (Remember Fatal Attraction?) But in The Wife she executes a complete role-reversal as the quietly composed and stoic spouse of self-absorbed American novelist (Jonathan Pryce) who’s about to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. It's unfortunate that the actress's rumoured candidacy for an Oscar nomination comes wrapped in this painfully obvious story.
Jane Anderson’s screenplay burdens its principal characters with dialogue frequently at odds with their personalities. This becomes obvious as soon as potential biographer Christian Slater probes weak spots in the honoree’s carefully groomed façade. When Slater pesters Close for details about her husband’s literary style and its ability to produce simple but telling sketches of his characters, the audience deduces the ghost-writing plot twist long before The Wife’s characters do. The result is a movie that feels much longer than its 1 hour and 40 running time.
The Verdict? Solid actors at the mercy of a script as dull as it is self-obvious.
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