Movie Review: The Wife

Glenn Close delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Joan Castleman, the long-suffering wife, muse, and kingmaker of Nobel Prize winner Joe Castleman (Jonathon Pryce).

This film captures the chilling formality and repressed fury of a woman who has endured decades of a conventional marriage characterized by love and betrayal, comfort and compromise, fame and entitlement.

In the flashbacks to the late 1950s and early 1960s, younger versions of the characters, expertly played by Annie Stark (Glenn Close’s daughter) and Harry Lloyd, provide the backstory for this unbalanced relationship.

Young Joan Archer had writing aspirations of her own and what Professor Joe Castleman called the “golden touch.” Intrigued by her looks and talent, Joe singles out Joan and has an affair that derails his marriage and university career.

Young Joe, the professor, is more than willing to nurture this budding talent, but an unfortunate encounter with a disillusioned female author (Elizabeth McGovern) erodes young Joan’s confidence.

What follows is a plan to merge Joe’s big ideas with Joan’s golden touch. And so begins Joe’s literary career, one that catapults him onto the national and international scene with loyal, compliant Joan at his side.

The awarding of the Nobel Prize provides the catalyst for change.

It is clear from the start (even to Joe) that changes are in the air. Joan bristles with competence, ensuring the minutiae of Joe’s life are in order, while her facial expressions and curt replies tell another story. She may appear dutiful, but she is definitely not submissive.

Wannabe biographer Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater) picks up on these nuances as he tries to ingratiate himself with Joan, Joe, and their son David (Max Irons). Nathaniel has thoroughly researched Joe and reached his own conclusions about the Castleman success story. All Nathaniel needs is validation from Joan or David.

Having read and enjoyed the novel by Meg Wolitzer, I found myself eagerly following each scene in this well-crafted film directed by Bjorn Runge. While there were a few minor differences—Nobel Prize vs. Helsinki Prize, Sweden vs. Finland, two children vs. three children, no sauna scene—the gripping storyline and gut-wrenching moments have been preserved.

A must-see film!


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Movie Review: A Simple Favor

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Darcey Bell’s novel, I eagerly awaited the release of this psychological thriller starring Anna Kendrick (mommy blogger Stephanie) and Blake Lively (fashionista Emily).

Both actresses deliver stellar performances: Kendrick nails the part of the friendless Type-A personality who over-volunteers at her son’s school while Lively shocks and titillates as she releases her inner mean girl.

Evocative French pop songs play in the background as vulnerabilities are revealed, and secrets are shared over chilled martinis. Stephanie’s constant apologizing and awkwardness contrast with the detached ruthlessness of Emily’s character. A telling line from Emily: “Baby, if you apologize again, I’m going to have to slap the sorry out of you.”

In spite of several red flags in Emily’s behavior, Stephanie is thrilled with the budding friendship. When Emily goes missing, Stephanie steps in and helps Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) with his son and household. Soon after the funeral, she moves in and assumes Emily’s role as wife and mother. Throughout the film Stephanie gives updates on her “vlog” as her follower count skyrockets.

From here the plot veers in unexpected directions: a corpse (assumed to be Emily’s) is found at the bottom of a lake in Michigan, Emily’s son Nicky (Ian Ho) reports that he has seen his mother, and Stephanie starts to wonder if Emily is really dead.

Determined to solve this mystery, Stephanie puts on her Nancy Drew hat and starts investigating. She sneaks into offices, breaks into filing cabinets, tracks down an ex-lover, and has a run-in with Emily’s fashion designer boss, Dennis Nylon (Rupert Friend). Nylon dismisses Stephanie with a stinging barb: “Never wear a vintage Hermès scarf with a Gap T-shirt. If you were truly Emily’s friend, you’d know that.”

The more Stephanie investigates, the more she realizes how little she knows of Emily. A fact corroborated by Sean who refers to his wife as a “beautiful ghost.”

More crimes surface—arson, fraud, multiple murders—in this twisted tale of cross and double-cross. Spoiler Alert: If you’ve read the book, you’ll be taken aback by the altered ending.

A must-see film!


Movie Review: God Bless the Broken Road

Inspired by the Rascal Flatts song, “God Bless the Broken Road,” this film follows Amber (Lindsay Pulsipher), a young war widow struggling with her husband’s untimely death in Afghanistan. A second storyline focuses on Cody (Andrew W. Walker), a headstrong NASCAR driver who has been forced into coaching and community service with a local racer (Gary Grubbs).

Two years after her husband’s death, Amber reaches the end of her rope. Her job at the diner barely covers the essentials, her house is on the verge of foreclosure, and her overbearing mother-in-law (Kim Delaney) doesn’t hesitate to criticize Amber’s parenting of her daughter, Bree (Makenzie Moss). Amber becomes increasingly angry at God and refuses to attend church. Frustrated and desperate, she pawns her engagement ring and takes out a 38-percent loan to make house payments.

Cody winds up helping Bree and the other children in the church community build their own go-karts. Eventually, Amber and Cody meet and start dating.

Unfortunately, their respective situations worsen.

Unwilling to curb his recklessness on the track, Cody crashes but manages to emerge unscathed. Shocked by his near-fatal accident, Amber takes distance and forbids Bree to participate in the upcoming go-kart races.

As Amber loses her home to foreclosure, she faces more criticism from her mother-in-law and growing rebellion from Bree, who is determined to race her go-kart and live with her grandmother.

Bree’s disappearance brings all the characters together in an emotional finale, culminating with the singing of the title song. Remember to bring tissues!


Movie Review: Little Italy

Set in Toronto’s Little Italy neighborhood, this light-hearted comedy celebrates family, young (and not-so-young) romance, and food–more precisely pizza.

The tagline–Romeo and Juliet with pizza–is an apt descriptor.

The storyline centers on Nikki Angioli (Emma Roberts), an aspiring chef who reluctantly returns to Toronto after a five-year absence, and Leo Campo (Hayden Christensen), her boyhood pal. The chemistry sizzles as they navigate a slow, sensual courtship.

Unfortunately, their fathers, onetime friends and partners, had a falling out after a pizza contest. Now, they’re operating rival pizzerias next door to each other.

Nikki and Leo aren’t the only star-crossed lovers in this film. Nikki’s grandmother (Andrea Martin) and Leo’s grandfather (Danny Aiello) carry on a secret romance, meeting in the confessional and at Starbucks. Their scenes are delightful–I only wish more of the movie had been devoted to these seasoned actors.

While most of the film features Italian-Canadian (American) stereotypes, a few extra touches have been added: an Asian bar owner named Luigi (Andrew Phung) and two Indo-Canadian characters, Jogi and Jessie (Vas Saranga and Amrit Kauer) who work for the rival pizzerias.

Definitely light fare but an excellent choice for end-of-the-summer viewing.


Movie Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed the novel by Kevin Kwan, I wondered if the film adaptation could possibly capture its glamor, extravagance, and humor.

I needn’t have worried.

Director Jon M. Chu has succeeded in creating an unforgettable romantic comedy with an all-Asian cast and an Asian-American lead, set against the stunning backdrop of Singapore.

Native New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) accompanies her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. While Rachel is excited and nervous about meeting Nick’s family, she has no idea about the extent of his family affluence and influence. Nick is the son of an obscenely wealthy family and one of Singapore’s most eligible bachelors.

Rachel becomes an instant target for Nick’s disapproving mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) and a host of jealous relatives and socialites. A series of adventures and misadventures follow as Rachel attends a never-ending stream of social events featuring over-the-top meals and décor.

At first covert, Eleanor’s behavior quickly becomes more overt; she informs Rachel that she has no pedigree and is simply not good enough for her son. A former girlfriend of Nick’s and her posse indulge in some mean-girl tactics, intended to intimidate Rachel. When Rachel’s confidence falters, she is propped up by Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina), a hilarious college roommate, and her nouveau riche family.

From start to finish, I found myself immersed in the antics of these delightful and not-so-delightful characters. I particularly enjoyed the ending–a slight departure from the novel–but one that will linger in the memories of rom-com enthusiasts. And possibly pave the way for a sequel.

From my book review of Crazy Rich Asians: “A modern-day Romeo and Juliet story with dashes of the Kardashians, hints of Dallas and Falconcrest, and heavy doses of the snobbery and social rules found in Downton Abbey.” You can read more here.


Movie Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

I found myself relaxing into this delightful film, set against the backdrop of a beautiful Greek island (actually shot up the coast in Croatia) and the upbeat tempo of timeless ABBA songs. In addition to hearing the old favorites—“Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo”—we are introduced to lesser-known songs such as “When I kissed the Teacher,” “Andante Andante,” and “One of Us.” I’m looking forward to Cher’s upcoming CD release of these cover songs.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is planning a grand opening for Hotel Bella Donna, named in honor of her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), who died the previous year. Everything is in place as Sophie awaits the arrival of Donna’s best friends, Rose (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christina Baranski) and her three Dads, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth), and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard).

To make up for Donna’s death, the film introduces a parallel story about Donna’s youth. Lily James plays the young Donna, a free-spirited and sweet-voiced woman hoping to make memories as she searches for her life’s purpose. The flashbacks seamlessly move the timeline between the late 1970s and the present day. While the original film glossed over the details, this sequel provides insight into Donna’s relationships with her three suitors. The new cast playing the younger versions of the main characters add to the film’s energy and humor.

The casting of Cher as Donna’s mother was an inspired decision. Her rendition of “Fernando” (as sung to Andy Garcia) is one of the highlights. I also enjoyed the short—too short—scene where Meryl Streep appears and sings “My Love, My Life” with Amy Seyfried. Bring your tissues!

A light and breezy film perfect for the summer and a welcome reprieve from the explosive alternatives.


Movie Review: Book Club

Four iconic actresses—Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen—come together in this breezy movie about relationships, aging, and sexuality.

Each actress plays a role closely tied to her own persona: High-strung Diane (Diane Keaton) is dealing with recent widowhood, Vivian (Jane Fonda) enjoys her short flings and independence, Sharon (Candice Bergen) plays a cynical, long-divorced federal judge, and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is experiencing a slump in her marriage.

After starting to read Fifty Shades of Grey, their book club selection, the women’s lives are turned upside down.

While traveling to visit her two condescending daughters, Diane stumbles over a dashing stranger (Andy Garcia), almost knocks him out as she tries to retrieve anti-anxiety pills, and when a loud noise frightens her, she grabs his crotch to steady herself. Sparks fly and soon the twosome is inseparable.

Carol’s attempts to revive her sex life with her husband (Craig T. Nelson) lead to several cringe-worthy conversations and an embarrassing encounter with a female constable.

Bold and confident Vivian succumbs to the advances of a younger lover (Don Johnson) from her past.

Sharon, played with aplomb by Candice Bergen, stole the show with her witticisms, no-nonsense judgments, struggles with Spanx, and online dating adventures. I could easily have watched an entire 104 minutes of this particular subplot.

Definitely light fare but worth seeing and noting the underlying message: If you’re feeling stuck or stagnant, take responsibility and shake up your life.