‘The Artist’s Wife’ Review: Strife on Canvas

The best, perhaps the only reason to see “The Artist’s Wife” is Lena Olin, an actor incapable of giving a so-so performance. As Claire, though, the devoted spouse of the title, even Olin is unable to salvage this pulpy portrait of a onetime artist who has laid aside her own talents to enable those of her husband.

As the gorgeous handmaiden to Richard (an enjoyably tetchy Bruce Dern), a celebrated painter, Claire runs errands and fills the refrigerator in their Hamptons home with healthy produce. But Richard is becoming forgetful and inappropriate with his art students, his crustiness erupting into tantrums and the canvases for an upcoming exhibition standing accusingly unfinished. His diagnosis of Alzheimer’s sends Claire to New York City to persuade Richard’s long-estranged daughter, Angela (Juliet Rylance) — a resentful single mother — to reconcile with her ailing father.

Padded with clunky metaphors (like Richard’s conviction that the foundation of their home is cracking), “The Artist’s Wife” nevertheless asks a rather interesting question: Could Richard’s illness finally demand less of Claire than his art has done? And as she rents a studio, breaks out her paintbrushes and hooks up with Angela’s babysitter (Avan Jogia), she’s like a prisoner unexpectedly granted early release.

Thanks to the subtleties of Olin’s performance — and the acidic sting of Dern’s — “The Artist’s Wife,” directed by Tom Dolby, feels less about dementia than the price of nurturing another’s artistic vision. And had Dolby allowed Claire’s awakening full rein, and followed it to a finale less servile and expected, he might have produced a movie more worthwhile than this one.

The Artist’s Wife
Rated R. You don’t hire Lena Olin and not put her in bikini underwear. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. In select theaters, virtual cinemas and available to rent or buy on iTunes, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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