Director Björn Runge makes his English-language debut with a memorable adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel, but this film belongs to Glenn Close who delivers what could be her best performance.
We meet the Castlemans in their Conneticut home in 1993, where an early morning phone call from Stockholm informs author Joseph (Jonathan Pryce, with an excellent accent), and his long-suffering Joan (Close) that he has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. They’re both elated, and during the day’s celebrations we’re also introduced to their pregnant daughter Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan) and tense son David (Max Irons, son of Jeremy), a messy would-be writer who resents his father’s inability to praise his work.
During the trip to receive the award the pair are continually approached by the insidious Nathaniel Boone (Christian Slater), another author who dearly wants to write Joe’s biography. Riding on newfound credibility after TV’s Mr. Robot, here Slater uses his trademark pushy smarm to good effect. His continual talk of the past prompts Joan (or Joanie, when Joe is subtly putting her down) to flashback to her 1950s university days as an aspiring writer (played by Annie Starke, Close’s daughter) falling in love with the young and pompous Joe (Harry Lloyd), her married English professor.
Pryce is very fine as the fairly objectionable Joseph, but this story is all about Joan. While Close has been tremendous before (1988’s Dangerous Liaisons and a recent turn in TV’s Damages come to mind), this nevertheless stands amongst her best work, a characterisation of great restraint and self-control accompanied by an unnerving sense of danger, as a late-life crisis brews that could well be scarier than anything in Fatal Attraction.
Studying such uncomfortable subject matter as sexism in creative industries and the lies and resentments that underlie long-term relationships, this is a dark and sometimes deeply uncomfortable drama. Yet Close makes it pretty much a must-see, with a final act well worth writing home about.