THE ARTIST’S WIFE Review – This Flick Paints a Rich, Layered Picture

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The Artist’s Wife review – Staci Layne Wilson says the combination of Lena Olin and Bruce Dern makes this slow-burn movie worth watching.

The Artist's Wife ReviewIn the new drama The Artist’s Wife, Lena Olin (Hunters) plays the title character, Claire Smythson. She lives a wealthy, idle life in the Hamptons while her husband, a famous abstract artist, descends into the twilight of his career. Once a promising painter herself, Claire has stayed in the shadows—until now. As his star falls, hers rises (whether she wants it to or not).

I’m predisposed to enjoy movies about artists. There’s just something so mysterious about them, and how they create their canvases, that the subject matter is a never-ending source of fascination. But artists in movies are almost always portrayed as total jerks—remember abusive Pollack, or the greedy husband in Big Eyes? Well, the celebrated Richard Smythson (Bruce Dern, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) is no exception, even though he, unlike the above-noted icons, is purely fictional.

Forced into the forefront while preparing work for his final show, Claire realizes that Richard’s always mercurial moods are becoming increasingly erratic. He’s never been a very nice person, but how he is acting now is beyond the pale, so she gets him to a doctor. Not surprisingly, he is diagnosed with dementia. As his memory, behavior, and artistic abilities deteriorate, she shields his condition from the curators of the exhibit. And as she tries to find a way for Richard to still have his last moment in the spotlight, Claire also struggles to reconnect him to his estranged adult daughter from his previous marriage.

The Artist’s Wife might feel like a combination of The Wife (the 2017 Glenn Close movie about marital and artistic duplicity) and Still Alice (the 2014 Julianne Moore movie about a brilliant person felled by Alzheimer’s), but it takes a different route by focusing on the minutia of Claire’s everyday life in the midst of chaos. Therefore, it’s not as depressing as you might think. That’s not to say it’s a feel-good flick by any means, but at least it doesn’t aim ruthlessly for the heartstrings. In fact, it’s almost cut-and-dried.

In spite of the movie having an artsy backdrop, the look and feel is straightforward and without stylistic flourish. Personally, I would have liked more beauty in the film (think: Frida), but its lack of aesthetic grandstanding doesn’t harm the overall experience.

The Artist’s Wife is a solid drama with excellent acting by its two leads and periphery cast. While it may not make a lasting impression, it serves its purpose in being an absorbing character-study on the effects of a life of denial and what could happen to a middle-aged woman when given new, unexpected opportunities. It’s worth a look, especially if you are a fan of Olin and Dern.

Rated R
1 Hour 34 Minutes

If this The Artist’s Wife review paints you a pretty picture, check Rotten Tomatoes or back here frequently to see where/when it’s available. As with most films now, its release has been postponed.

The Artist’s Wife review – Staci Layne Wilson says the combination of Lena Olin and Bruce Dern makes this slow-burn movie worth watching.


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Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson is an accomplished writer / director / producer / film critic and the author the bestseller So L.A. - A Hollywood Memoir. Find her on

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