THE ARTIST’S WIFE – April Neale

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What a disappointing life it would be to love and worship symmetry, when all life does is present us chaotic Dali and Picasso paintings.

This statement is the issue we have for physically failing successful commercial artist Richard Smythson (Bruce Dern) whose grasp on reality and his own existence is slowly being ravaged by Alzheimer’s.

The Artist’s Wife is as much the story of the artist, Richard, as it is his loyal second wife Claire, played by the ageless Lena Olin. She is an artist herself who subsumed her professional being to further his. A common theme in real life for many women.

This film, from Greyshack Films and Stand Releasing, is a study in the ravages of pent-up guilt, anger and disease as Richard must be managed, and the “artist’s wife” Claire must preserve her sense of identity and rediscover why she walks the earth herself. Her time to revisit her artistic life is interplayed between his care, which increasingly becomes more troublesome as his aggression rises with the progression of the disease.

The salvation for these two is that they have money, a lot of it. And that there is real love there.

The affordability of a caretaker issue in Richard’s future of uncertainty will certainly be able to be met by Claire, who fights this reality and refuses to join support groups to vent.

Directed by Tom Dolby, The Artist’s Wife is a windfall of A-listers like Bruce Dern, Lene Olin, Juliet Rylance, Stefanie Powers, with a stellar supporting cast Tonya Pinkens, Avan Jogia and Ravi Cabot-Conyers.

Surprisingly it is Jogia, an actor who cut his teeth early in Nickelodeon sitcoms, who steals many scenes in this cast of giants. His “manny” Danny role, supporting Richard’s high achieving gay daughter and her son Gogo, is subtle, resonate and hits deep. Jogia is going to have a continued marvelous acting career if he keeps picking these slightly smaller roles that exhibit great potential for notice.

Rylance, too, is exceptional in her resolve to forgive her father who never was there for her, and to accept stepmother Claire at face value. Currently killing it as the character Della Street in Perry Mason for HBO, Rylance is a force of nature in her scenes with Olin. Cast as Cornelia Robertson in the short-lived Steven Soderbergh critical darling, The Knick, for Cinemax, she proved to be a top actor to always look for in any project.

Speaking of these juicy smaller roles, amazing performances are given by Stephanie Powers who is glorious in her worldly character, Ada Risi. Risi is presented as a bonne vivant and warm personality who is larger-than-life in the art world. Her moments between both Claire and Richard are wonderful to witness.

Catherine Curtin, a character actor extraordinaire, is fantastic and quite memorable as confidante and domestic carer for the well-to-do Smythsons.

Rounding out this trifecta of female actors who give it their all in a short time frame is Tonya Pinkins who is cast as gallery owner Liza Caldwell, a staunch ally to both Claire and Richard. She curates their work.

Which brings us to the two leads, Bruce Dern and Lena Olin. Olin is a masterful muse and brilliant in playing the wife role, until she realizes what she has sacrificed as her world closes in with each day that passes for Richard, in the throes of memory failure.

Her sorrow is channeled in a variety of ways but it is her role as mediator between Rylance’s character Angela and her father that elevates her performance.

As always, Olin is not just an eternal beauty onscreen, but a powerful presence that always energetically glimmers even when she has left the shot.

And Dern is reveling in his age-appropriate roles including his recent turn as George Spahn in the film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

In The Artist’s Wife, his character is imbued with truth and wisdom, fear and anger and all the things you would expect when a brilliant mind senses it is losing its tether on reality and cognitive ability.

He is better in every role he takes on, a testament to the power and value of working until you no longer can.

If anything, the film, which is neither maudlin nor weepy, reminds us that life is continual loss. And to bury the anger we carry from past hurts, love hard and forgive even harder.

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April Neale

April Neale

April Neale is an entertainment writer and television critic. Neale has read her work both on NPR and 'Spoken Interludes', and has previously written for various industry trades and entertainment websites. Neale has written for Monsters and Critics since 2003, and is an editor and main contributor to the TV, Film and Culture (formerly Lifestyle) sections.