The Wife

Director: Tom Noonan

Institute History


Returning to Sundance after last year’s success with What Happened Was, which won the Grand Jury Prize, Tom Noonan makes even greater strides at distinguishing himself as one of the clear artistic voices on the American independent scene. The Wife is quite simply a remarkable second achievement as Noonan continues masterfully to combine his theatrical knowledge with cinematic craft.

The action is confined to a New England farmhouse, isolated by crisp night air and a snowy landscape. Where you might imagine a bustling farm family going about their nightly activity around a warm, glowing fire, this house has been transformed by Jack and Rita into a modern, almost-stoical environment. The air in their home has the dreaded calm of intellectualism and composure, but their dinner ritual is interrupted when Cosmo and his wife Arlie drop by. You know in the first five minutes that Rita and Jack are not the “drop by” sort of people. They are therapists who border on New Age snobbery. Cosmo knows the couple—in fact is a patient of theirs—but Arlie is the outsider, an unsophisticated, lost kitten. The couple overstay their welcome until a forced dinner invitation is inevitable, but politeness can only sustain itself for so long. The action catapults in a new direction with Arlie as the catalyst, Cosmo the bumbling seeker of truth, Rita desperately trying to preserve her fragility, and Jack looking on with increasing smug amusement as dinner conversation progresses from the mundane to the pretentious until it reaches the reactionary.

You couldn’t ask for a better cast to intuit these four characters. Their performances are seamless as these people crumble and rebuild before your eyes. The cinematography is stunning as Noonan maneuvers you around the action like an eavesdropping insect. He zooms you close to the action and holds you there until you twitch with the tension, then pull you into the yard, forcing you to watch through the windows like a chilled voyeur. A welcome antithesis to Hollywood action films, The Wife has a heady realism not unlike Chekhov or Pinter. The characters are not afraid to express themselves, while at the same time, it is what is left unsaid that exposes the truth and makes The Wife a most gratifying and intriguing experience.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

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