Review by Sean Boelman
Co-written and directed by Tom Dolby, The Artist’s Wife is the type of star-driven, adult-oriented drama that just screams “awards bait”. Yet despite the film’s frequent attempts at pandering, the movie still works thanks to the power of its lead performances by Lena Olin and Bruce Dern.
The film tells the story of the wife of an acclaimed artist as she begins to doubt herself and her relationship when her husband begins to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Although the topics of aging and dementia are nothing new to the older-leaning genre, this movie brings a unique perspective to it, and as a result, it works surprisingly well.
As the title would suggest, rather than focusing on the artist who is experiencing Alzheimer’s, this film is more about his wife, who serves as his companion and caretaker. It is rare that a movie so accurately captures the emotions of what it feels like to slowly be losing a loved one, but the script by Dolby, Nicole Brendig, and Abdi Nazemian easily accomplishes this.
The film admittedly is a bit excessive in regards to how it portrays Alzheimer’s disease itself (the scenes that deal with the character’s episodes are disappointingly rooted in stereotypes about the disease), sometimes to the point of feeling insincere. A lot of the scenes that are supposed to be resonant instead end up feeling like they are simply trying to be tear-jerking.
The scenes that are actually most effective are those that explore the relationship between the two leads. When the movie is addressing the tension that exists between the characters resulting from the diagnosis, it feels honest and heartfelt. Most viewers will already sympathize with the characters, so anything else is overkill.
That said, Olin and Dern are able to take these uneven characters and turn them into something more human. Dern’s performance is very focused on one thing, and he does a good job of it, but it is Olin who steals the spotlight with her more nuanced turn. There’s a lot of subtlety in the script and Olin is thankfully able to pick up on it and accentuate it.
On a technical level, Dolby’s film is mostly solid, if about as safe as everything else in the execution. The cinematography is upscale and elegant, but given the fact that the movie is supposedly rooted in art, it would have been nice to see Dolby do something a bit more ambitious with the visuals. As is, this script would have been just as good (if not better) performed on stage than in front of the camera.
The script of The Artist’s Wife had some interesting ideas, but needed some additional work. However, great performances elevate what could have otherwise been a disappointment into a mostly likable watch.
The Artist’s Wife hits theaters and VOD on September 25.