Movie Review: The Artist’s Wife7th December 2020
Still attempting to ride the lighting in a bottle success of Nebraska, Bruce Dern crops up in another drama that has artsy independent farce written all over it. Sounds like my cup of tea, and frankly, I was rather looking forward to The Artist’s Wife. My confidence was knocked often, battered down with the sleek nothingness its trailers and teasers looked to offer, but I persevered, just in case I found something of worth. That’s what we have to do in such tragic years, troop on through, pick up the pieces, move on through until we find something worth clinging to for dear life. The Artist’s Wife is not that piece.
Comparisons to The Wife aren’t wholly ungrounded, The Artist’s Wife treads much the same territory in that respect. With that in mind, though, it lacks the chemistry and animosity that made the Glenn Close-led feature work so well. The pairing of Dern and Lena Olin doesn’t hold a candle to the Close and Jonathan Pryce chemistry we were treated to with The Wife, but it’d be rude to write them off entirely. Dern and Olin share great affection for one another, the bubbling anger and resentments are inevitably to bubble over, but getting there is rather charming. Dern hits close to the mark of excellence, narrowly missing it when he devolves into stuttered, fractured moments. It’s not the fault of the performer, it’s more the novice-like nature of director Tom Dolby’s craft.
Olin fares rather well, though, as most suffering wives in cinema do. Again, the comparisons between this and The Wife bubble to the surface once again. A solid performance, similar problems to Dern, and the resolution to those problems are, as ever, are found within the direction. Dolby needs to shift his focus, move away from the blocked, unmoving cameras, throw movement into his film. It isn’t engaging whatsoever to have an unmoving camera settle in for some thrilling, wordless action. There’s no poetic or artistic justification for it, and the only excuse I can think of is cluelessness. Accept that, though, embrace it. Something will come out of the other end through sheer frustration.
Dolby works in rather bland set pieces, and it doesn’t surprise me that I was disappointed with The Artist’s Wife. Upsetting, sure, but not astonishing news that’ll break the front page. Dern plays the stereotypical artist, someone so devoted to their craft that they don’t hesitate to anger or vilify those around them, or focus on anything that isn’t their work. I understand why it’s such an important narrative, it’s a stereotype because of how true it used to be, but The Artist’s Wife is fiction. An imagination of some poor soul trapped in a failing body with little memory of the past, and the passionate struggle of his wife. We’ve heard this story a thousand times, and some simple tweaks could fix this one, but this Dern and Olin pairing is a tad undercooked and too sweeping with its bland statements and characteristics.