February 1, 2019 – Glenn Close, who plays the wife in this movie, is understandably winning every acting award in sight for her great performance as a literary genius who has toiled in her husband's shadow for years while propping up his reputation. She is totally fed up with all that in Stockholm, Sweden, on the eve of her husband receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature.
This story seems real enough to be based on fact, but it is based on fiction, a Meg Wolitzer novel of the same name. I suspect that Wolitzer has experienced at least some of the feelings, expressed in this movie, of being overlooked and underappreciated by the male-dominated book industry.
Close (“Albert Nobbs”) plays Joan Castleman, wife of Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce of “G.I. Joe Retaliation”) a literary giant whose son, David Castleman (Max Irons of “Woman in Gold”) is an aspiring writer. Joan and Joe's daughter, Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan of “The Brave”) is about to have a baby, just as Joe receives a call from Sweden informing him that he will receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. The story is set in the 1990s.
At first, this seems like a happy family, but as it goes along, hidden trouble starts to bubble to the surface. David is not a happy son. He can't seem to get much support, or approval for his work from his father, for reasons that become clear later in the film.
Joan is clearly frustrated with her egotistical, philandering husband, who doesn't take good care of his health and is increasingly forgetful and prone to overlook the needs of others around him. She tirelessly supports him and picks up after him, manages his medications and puts up with his affairs.
Another character enters the story during the flight to Sweden aboard the supersonic Concorde airliner, Nathanial Bone (Christian Slater of “Assassins Run”) an author who wants to do a biography of Joe Castleman. Bone keeps stalking the Castlemans during their stay in Stockholm. Joe wants nothing to do with Bone and is rudely dismissive of him, but Bone does manage to corner Joan over drinks.
Bone is indeed working on an unauthorized biography of Joe Castleman. He has done some research and has an incredible theory. He thinks that Joan has essentially been Joe's secret ghostwriter for years. She is the real literary genius of the family, while Joe has taken all the credit for Joan's writing. His theory is based on differences between Joe's writing before and after he met Joan. Joan denies this theory and threatens Bone with legal action if he publishes his theory.
The film has numerous flashbacks to the time when Joe and Joan first met (young Joe and Joan are played by Harry Lloyd and Annie Starke, respectively). Joe was married before his affair with Joan. Joe was seemingly an up and coming writer and college instructor when he met Joan, a student. Their affair cost him his job. The affair led to Joe's divorce and marriage to Joan. Joe later became estranged from his first family.
The flashbacks, and major drama in Stockholm reveal the truth about the Castleman family. On the flight back to America, Joan promises David that she will get Susannah and him together and reveal the whole truth to them.
This is a well-constructed movie by director Björn L Runge and the performances are excellent. The screenplay by Jane Anderson (“How to Make An America Quilt”) is solid. She, and author Meg Wolitzer, have created a couple of complex characters in Joe and Joan within in a complicated relationship. The secondary characters are considerably thinner, but Joe and Joan carry this film with power. This film rates a B.
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