VOD film review: The Artist’s Wife
Matthew Turner | On 02, May 2021
Director: Tom Dolby
Cast: Lena Olin, Bruce Dern, Juliet Rylance, Avan Jogia, Stefanie Powers
Where to watch The Artist’s Wife online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / CHILI
Co-written and directed by Tom Dolby (son of sound engineer genius Ray Dolby), The Artist’s Wife stars Lena Olin as Claire Smythson, the wife of renowned artist Richard Smythson (Bruce Dern). She long ago gave up her own artistic ambitions in order to support her husband. When Richard begins displaying signs of Alzheimer’s, Claire undergoes something of an identity crisis (as indicated by the title), but she also begins to realise this might be an opportunity to reignite her career.
It’s perhaps unfortunate that this dementia drama (already delayed from 2019) is coming out in the UK close to Anthony Hopkins’ triumphant Oscar win for playing an Alzheimer’s-afflicted father in The Father. The two films are doing very different things, but The Father could likely draw attention away from this well made, but ultimately overly familiar, tale.
That would be a shame, because both Lena Olin and Bruce Dern deliver impressive performances. Dern has the showier role and he does a superb job of conveying the unpredictability of Alzheimer’s – consequently there’s genuine tension in every scene as you, along with Claire, brace yourself for his mood swings and odd behaviour.
Similarly, Olin is superb, assaying a complex emotional journey – alongside grief, loss and sadness, there’s also a touch of excitement and attendant guilt about what Richard’s condition might eventually mean for her professional life. There’s also strong support from Juliet Rylance (as Richard’s resentful, grown-up daughter from a previous marriage) and an unexpectedly amusing turn from Stefanie Powers in a jaw-dropping cameo as Juliet’s old artist friend, Ada Risi.
The film is strikingly shot by cinematographer Ryan Earl Parker, heightened by the decision to set the story during the winter, so there are plenty of appropriately cold and snowy landscapes, as well as the opportunity for Olin to wear some nice coats.
Dolby apparently based the film on his own experience with his father’s Alzheimer’s and the film does a good job of showing how the disease can place a great strain on family members, especially when, as here, there are existing rifts that need to be healed before it’s too late. On a similar note, the film captures the various stages of acceptance that both family members and the person living with Alzheimer’s go through, so it’s certain to strike a chord with anyone who’s had experience of the same thing.
Ultimately, the only real problem is that it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’ve seen it all before. The film’s not quite in worthy-but-dull territory, but it drives around the neighbourhood a few times. Still, it’s worth seeing for Olin and Dern’s performances and it does a good enough job of pushing all the right emotional buttons to produce the desired effect.