the artist's wife
director: tom dolby (last weekend)
starring: lena olin, bruce dern, stefanie powers and juliet rylance
REVIEWER: nick tonkin
The wife of a famous artist tries to contact his estranged family before his dementia worsens.
The Artist’s Wife was directed and co-written by Tom Dolby and features towering performances by Bruce Dern and Lena Olin as couple Richard and Claire Smythson. Richard is a renowned painter in his twilight years, preparing for an exhibition greatly anticipated by the art community.
Claire, an artist of merit in her own right, gave up her career to support Richard through the early years of his. With a recent diagnosis of dementia bringing Richard’s tendencies and behaviour in his old age into sharp focus, Claire realises that the man she has loved and built a life with is slipping away, and taking that life down with him.
The star of this show is undoubtedly Lena Olin, who gives an affecting performance as Claire, emphasised most strongly in moments where Bruce Dern’s Richard is tearing at the fabric of their lives in his struggle with the new reality of his life with dementia. Olin’ Claire handles these moments as well as anyone could expect, which grounds her portrayal as relatable and genuine.
While not exploring the experience and toll of dementia as keenly and creatively as Anthony Hopkins’ The Father, The Artist’s Wife instead tends to focus on Claire’s experience as someone hurt and tested by a loved one’s decline. The heart of the film explores how she gains a new compassion through these challenges, culminating in her seeking to reconnect Richard with his estranged daughter Angela and her young son.
Some tonal and thematic shifts may jarr, such as Claire’s connection with Danny - Angela’s son’s nanny, or how Claire navigates Richard’s exhibition in the denouement; but these don’t diminish to any large extent the film as a whole which ultimately presents a good natured exploration of the challenges faced by the Smythsons.
While some tonal and thematic shifts may jar, The Artist's Wife features towering performances by Bruce Dern and Lena Olin as the Smythsons as the film explores the challenges that they face.