Behind every great man is a great woman…or does that actually meant that the woman is being taken for granted? That’s the question in this film as we see Claire’s (Lena Olin) response to her commitment and love of her husband after his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Richard (Dern), a brilliant abstract artist, is struggling to create his final exhibition. Keenly aware of his initial cognitive decline, he lashes out at anyone who reminds him of his difficulties resulting in dire consequences. His relationships in work and home suffer, but ever the care-taker, Claire steps in to smooth over the bumps in the road.
Attempting to help mend Richard’s relationship with his daughter, Claire struggles but never succumbs, however within her, she yearns to find her own voice. She once had dreams, long forgotten, but within her the spark of her former self surfaces. It’s a battle between her loyalty and independence and the intrinsic need to be the caretaker.
Bruce Dern convincingly plays Richard, a crotchety old man who’s in the beginning stages of dementia. He delivers his cutting dialogue with a razor sharp edge. It’s a figurative bloodletting in one memorable and incredibly hurtful scene between Richard and his daughter, Angela (Juliet Rylance) that makes an indelible impression. But this is Claire’s story. We see what’s happening to Richard through her eyes. And the sacrifices she willingly made through the years to help her husband succeed are now more evident than ever. Olin’s evocative and layered performance is captivatingly painful and beautiful at the same time as she brings to the surface the conflict married women have dealt with for decades. Hopefully, in today’s generation, this concept will be a thing of the past.
“The Artist’s Wife” is a complicated story that weaves together issues of father-daughter relationships, the role of a step-mother, and the need to be wanted as Claire’s artistic talents are reawakened. While it’s premise is similar to “the Wife” starring Glenn Close, the emotional depth and character development which pulls you into the story makes each scene more urgent and engaging than its predecessor. And the ending is superb!
Now streaming from The Siskel Film Center: HERE