Arlie: You two kind of, you know set everyone straight, you know advice wise and all that? -
Rita: Well, um advice isn’t really how I put it. I mean, We um, We give people a chance to feel safe with their thoughts and their feelings and kind of help them find a way but it really isn’t advice -
Arlie: People must get involved with each other?
In Tom Noonan’s The Wife two new age therapists, Jack (Noonan) and Rita (Julie Hagerty) have their quiet evening interrupted by an impromptu visit from Cosmo (Wallace Shawn), who is one of their patients, and his wife Arlie (Karen Young). When we first meet the therapist couple Rita is preparing dinner and becoming upset with Jack for being distant. After Cosmo and Arlie arrive the two couples respective issues are revealed and the mysteries surrounding the issues deepened.
Viewers accustomed to mainstream films will instantly recognize the characters only as types. Jack as played by Noonan is a dominating presence, his soft sarcasm undercutting anyone’s attempt to communicate with him on an equal level. Rita is passive, Arlie is controlling and Cosmo is a weakling. Noonan, as director, does not simply deflate these types by revealing that the characters are the opposite of what they seem, as would happen in your standard dark indie film, but rather he reveals that each character is exactly what they appear to be while simultaneously being a thousand other things.
As the title character, Arlie performs the classic role of a disruptor, familiar to viewers in films from Renoir’s Boudu Saved from Drowning to Mike Leigh’s Kiss of Death. Like Trevor the Leigh film she is not without static ideas of her own that are in need of disruption.The other three characters know each other, professionally at least, before the night the film depicts but Arlie only knows Jack and Rita from stories Cosmo has told her. One of the ways she disrupts the other characters lives is by showing the therapists and Cosmo that, while they think they have her number based on Cosmo’s horrible stories about her told in therapy, she has theirs as well. The film delights, of course, in demonstrating that people don’t really have numbers, they have words. The trouble is that the words don’t reveal everything, or sometimes anything.
There is a magnificent sequence as the foursome sit around the dinner table where each character goes through more moods and expressions, all flowing organically from a sense of reality, than can be found in some director’s entire filmography offers. It can be surmised that Noonan has little respect for the methods these therapists use to get people to reveal their feelings but what is clear is that he has great respect for people getting involved with each other, even if they are hurt in the process.
Rita seems to want the other couple to go home while Jack seems to go out of his way to keep them in the house. Perhaps Jack prefers the tension caused by the friction between the foursome, which he thinks he can control, to the quieter, more emotionally dangerous intimacy resulting whenever two people are alone together.
Visually stunning with a darker palette than Noonan’s previous effort, What Happened Was, The Wife is a film of fractured personalities reflected in the cameras insistence of delineating not only the physical separation of it’s characters being in different rooms but also in the distortion which comes with seeing their images reflected in various distorting surfaces such as a wine bottle. The complex visuals do not overstate themselves but do serve as fine metaphors for the communicative dilemma faced by trying to reveal oneself to the ultimate distorting surface; a fellow human being.
Rita (to Jack): Why are you doing this?
Jack: It’’s called living, honey
At Netflix it is titled Wife – sounds interesting, just put it in queue.
Let us know what you think! Those searching for critical writings about the film should also try searching for Wifey, which I believe was the title of the play version.
“The film delights, of course, in demonstrating that people don’t really have numbers, they have words. The trouble is that the words don’t reveal everything, or sometimes anything.”
I think Jack’s trouble is that he’s got a very advanced system for working out the troubles in life, and it’s probably effective for giving other people advice, but when it comes to converting these ideas into dealing with the real problems in his life, he’s totally lost. Each of the characters begin to understand how limited their lives are, which is liberating and terrifying at the same time. I don’t think it would be too hard to relate it to Capra!
I loved What Happened Was… and I like this film even more. Too bad Tom Noonan only made two movies (interesting that each of them is labeled “a Tom Noonan movie”).
Maybe we’ll get another one someday? Any word on whether he’s interested in directing again?
Josh, one of my questions concerned his future plans, as well as whether he will ever release Wang Dang.
I believe the interview details are still being worked out.
Just saw this. Some thoughts and comments off the top of my head:
>I don’t know if I was in the wrong mood, but I found the characters/performances a bit contrived and a bit tiresome—particularly in the early part of the film. Perhaps a better word for “contrived” would be “theatrical” or artificial—as if I were aware of watching a play, versus real people. I felt this way about Arlie, who didn’t seem very believable as a real person.
>I don’t think I understood Jack and Rita very well, and I’d be interested in hearing comments from others.
>Some nice use of reflections, although I’m not sure if it was too “attention-getting.”
So what did I think? It was OK. Again, maybe I wasn’t in the mood. (I’m curious to know if I would react in the same way to a Cassavetes film if I watched one now. I don’t remember feeling this way when I’ve watched his films.)