If you enjoy absurdity entwined with predictability, then you may like THE ARTIST’S WIFE. I did not. Even though Bruce Dern gives it his best shot as famous painter, Richard Smythson, whose demeanor and mental acuity are rapidly diminishing, he is not enough to save this movie.
Richard is married to Claire (Lena Olin), who gave up her own career as an artist years earlier so she could be by his side. They live a quiet, pleasant life in Easthampton. Richard spends his days in his studio preparing for a new exhibit of his current work --- paintings which don’t exist.
After a series of events which make it increasingly apparent that Richard is suffering from more than just a creativity block, he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Claire reaches out to Richard’s daughter, Angela (Juliet Rylance), from a previous relationship, and from whom he has long been estranged.
She is unmoved by Claire’s pleas for a reconciliation, as she has emotional problems of her own. She is recently divorced and raising her six-year-old son, Gogo (Ravi Cabot-Conyers), on her own with the help of Danny (Avan Jogia), her very handsome nanny.
But Claire will not be deterred --- did I mention this movie is very predictable --- and before we know it, Angela, Gogo and Danny are spending Christmas with Claire and Richard. And, to top it off, Claire has found a way to help Richard with his painting issues.
Truthfully, I am shocked by the poor quality of the screenplay by Tom Dolby, who also directs, Nicole Brending and Abdi Nazemian. We can see each situation play out from a mile away, including Richard’s praise of his grandson’s artistic doodling --- with a fork --- and Claire’s immediate attraction to Danny, the young, hot babysitter.
The absurdity is rampant. As Richard continues to suffer loss of memory and his outbursts become erratic, Claire carries on with an air of indifference. After one such episode in which Richard shreds every piece of furniture in their living room, she leaves him alone for a day trip into New York City, where she drinks too much and must stay the night.
THE ARTIST’S WIFE doesn’t focus primarily on Richard’s Alzheimer’s, but to leave someone with that diagnosis alone overnight is rather crazy. And when Gogo doesn’t want to use the toilet in Richard and Claire’s home, Richard takes him out the front door --- in the snow --- to urinate on the bushes together.
Seriously, this script has some major problems. Do not even get me started on Claire’s one-night stand with Danny --- we know the minute they lock eyes in Angela’s kitchen that this was going to happen. Not an original thought anywhere ---
Dern is the only saving grace in THE ARTIST’S WIFE. No one does mean and nasty like him --- and he certainly gets his licks in here. Olin is as beautiful as ever, but there is only so much an accomplished actor like her can do with such a pointless script.
Opinion: Don’t Bother!
I was initially surprised that Lena Olin received top billing over Bruce Dern for this film, but it’s clear that this story belongs to her character. And the title --- THE ARTIST’S WIFE --- should have been my first clue.
Claire Smythson (Olin) watches helplessly as her famous painter husband Richard (Dern) descends ever so gradually into the depths of dementia/Alzheimer’s. He throws food at his laptop, makes vile comments to his art class students, destroys one of their paintings and orders a $95,000 clock. To that last act, Claire responds with “What were you thinking?” and mutters something about returning it. A trio of three writers combine for what is haphazard writing at best.
Some other scenes are cringeworthy, albeit not necessarily due to a faulty script. When Richard is honored for his body of work, he speaks at a podium in front of a large audience and mumbles something about long lost friends that are now dead, then complains about the lighting on the stage. As Claire watches helplessly, we are reminded that dementia is a wretched disease that affects many people’s lives, but that fact doesn’t always make for an entertaining movie.
Despite decent performances from both Olin and Dern, THE ARTIST’S WIFE is not a memorable outing for the viewer. Claire does her best to reconcile Richard with his estranged daughter Angela (Juliet Rylance, daughter of Mark Rylance from BRIDGE OF SPIES), and she generally succeeds in overcoming Angela’s initial objections. Add in Angela’s handsome young male nanny named Danny (Avan Jogia), who takes care of her adorable little boy Gogo (Ravi Cabot-Conyers), and a cameo from Stephanie Powers.
Olin does well in her portrayal of the loving wife who becomes more and more isolated and frustrated as Richard’s bizarre behavior gets worse. Interspersed are signs of Richard being normal, as when Claire asks if she can drive to the city and Richard tells her “You don’t have to ask permission, this isn’t Saudi Arabia!”. Then again, when he pours orange juice on his cereal and abruptly lets the bowl drop to the kitchen floor, it’s not shocking, just depressing.
Dern’s Richard is about what one would expect from the veteran actor. Alternately funny and loving, then downright mean and nasty, it’s obvious he is headed for some form of supervision, although the film never gets to that point. Instead we get Claire’s melancholy outlook of her situation, which is not unexpected. Consulting a psychologist doesn’t seem to help, either. If we were meant to empathize with Claire, THE ARTIST’S WIFE fails to arouse any significant emotional response.
Opinion: Wait For VOD