The Artist’s Wife

By Joanna Langfield

What could have been just another one of those “wife” stories gets a bit more interesting than we might have expected. Because instead of going pure melodrama, relying on old tropes like the woman sacrificing for her man, and oh it’s so sad he’s got Alzheimer’s, this story pushes its envelopes just a little. At least enough to push this one into a better-than-it-looks category.

Lena Olin, who is wonderful as always, brings a wonderful vitality to her role as a promising artist who, yes, has sacrificed her career for the much older man she loves. When he, (a firey Bruce Dern) who has lived in the glow of acclaim, begins to lose it, this is not a weepy story of sadness. Richard, as many Alzheimer’s patients do, becomes a nasty, violent man. Claire is afraid and harried. She’s also pissed, realizing she’s given too much to a man who, maybe through no fault of his own, is now not just a burden but a huge disappointment.

Both Olin and Dern bring a vibrancy to roles that are, essentially, underwritten. Joining them is a terrific Juliet Rylance, who injects each scene with something interesting, as the estranged daughter with problems of her own. Avan Jogia fills the bill as eye candy, but it’s Stefanie Powers who makes those eyes really pop. Let the record note, she looks amazing.