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29 Apr 4:00am

The Artist’s Wife review – incomplete portrait of a dysfunctional marriage

The Guardian
The story of Claire, played by Lena Olin, thwarted in her own artistic ambitions, could have been a force for feminism, but the camera’s gaze is instead fixated on how gorgeous she is “I create the art. She creates the rest of life. Everything we do is up to Claire.” That’s painter Richard Smythson speaking, an artworld big gun, Jackson Pollock-meets-Philip Roth, played by Bruce Dern. He’s being interviewed in front of camera alongside his long-suffering wife Claire (Lena Olin). Her response is frozen on screen for a split second: a forced smile and behind it a flash of panicked terror and possibly rage. It’s a moment of clarity that triggers a late-marriage crisis in Tom Dolby’s tasteful drama, brilliantly acted but never entirely credible and not quite the force for feminism it wants to be. Pretty soon it’s clear what a pile of crock Richard’s comment is. He is a rampant narcissist, and Claire’s entire married life has been in service to his male genius. Years ago they moved from New York to the Hamptons, where she is isolated but he can paint without distraction. When he wakes up in the morning Claire has a coffee waiting for him; she buys his paintbrushes, cooks his dinners and soothes his ego. Dern plays Richard without a shred of vanity, cantankerous and shrivelled, his behaviour becoming more erratic with early dementia.
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