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The Wife Roundtable: The Stifling Expectations Placed on Women

Glenn Close stars as Joan Castleman in 'The Wife.'

It was a cloudy Tuesday in Los Angeles as journalists gathered for a roundtable with author Meg Wolitzer, screenwriter Jane Anderson, and actress Annie Starke to discuss the excellent 2018 film The Wife. While Glenn Close has been receiving raves and accolades for her turn as Joan Castleman, the film has sadly not received attention for Anderson’s stellar screenplay or Starke’s revelatory turn as a younger Joan (Starke is Close’s actual daughter, and she channels her mother’s work with grace).

If it sounds like I’m gushing, forgive me; I was utterly taken by the movie and by the arc of a woman who so utterly challenges the idea of what a wife in fiction is. The book, and the script itself, are so clearly written by women in that Joan is never a victim, but rather the central character in her own life. Believe the hype around the film, and around Close’s performance.

Womanhood was definitely a topic covered by the panel of speakers. “I’m a writer, but I’m also the child of a writer,” said Wolitzer. “I grew up with a mother who was a writer who’s now 89 …  and when she published her first book one of the headlines was ‘Housewife Turns Into Novelist’. And she’s made this joke before. That was as if she was, you know, Clark Kent going into a phone booth … How could a housewife become a novelist? The idea that a sort of ordinary woman could have profound things to say seemed at the time something that made no sense, and there was a kind of condescension in that review.”

The novel, and Joan, spoke to Anderson on a personal level when it was first released. “I just fell in love the moment it came out, and it spoke to me as a female filmmaker cause I was also directing at the time, and have experienced a lot of sexism in the film business. So this novel in a way, it was just really sweet revenge.”

Starke revealed a personal connection to the material. “My two grandmothers came to mind. They were both married quite young and they took a back seat to my grandfathers. My dad’s mom in particular had a kind of extraordinary career. She was a chemist and the 1940s, she actually worked on the Manhattan project, and when she got pregnant, she got fired, and she also, side note, worked for GE,” Starke shared.

“I had these very profound private conversations with her growing up, and she still had all of her documents from the Manhattan project that she would get down from a high shelf in the closet. And I think I was one of the only grandchildren that saw this stuff. I was almost ashamed that I had no idea how important she was, and it just wasn’t really talked about our family.”

Starke also shared a story about her mother’s mom. “I love my grandfather, but he was an incredibly difficult person to be married to. He was a surgeon, and she was never, ever once encouraged to do anything for herself. She never went to college. She was truly one of the most brilliant women I’ve ever had the honor of knowing,” she said. “When she was older and unfortunately about to pass, she told my mom and 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.”

The Wife is a personal film for women who have been overlooked, and for those who have been forced into the role of nurturer at their expense. The experience of hearing these women speak about their connection to the material was inspiring. The Wife is available to buy and rent, and I encourage any fans of Close, or fans of women having complex roles in cinema.

(image: Sony Pictures Classic)

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Kate (they/them) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions they have. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, they are now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for their favorite rare pairs.