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Lena Olin stars in The Artist's Wife.Courtesy of Strand Releasing

  • The Artist’s Wife
  • Directed by Tom Dolby
  • Written by Tom Dolby, Nicole Brending and Abdi Nazemian
  • Starring Lena Olin, Bruce Dern and Juliet Rylance
  • Classification R; 94 minutes


2 out of 4 stars

Like an exhausted artist facing a blank canvas, or an underwhelmed film critic staring at a blank screen, The Artist’s Wife doesn’t have much to say but tosses something on the screen regardless, hoping it will stick. Perhaps nobly conceived as a portrait of the support network that props up society’s most creative minds, director Tom Dolby’s character study assembles a potentially interesting germ of an idea and a tremendous amount of talent and then does ... almost absolutely nothing.

At the onset, the marriage between acclaimed abstract painter Richard (Bruce Dern) and his loving wife Claire (Lena Olin) seems rock-solid. He is irascible, but brilliant. She is encouraging, but firm. But pull things apart just a seam, and throw in an Alzheimer’s diagnosis for Richard, and the couple’s carefully curated life falls apart, with Claire in particular thrown into a past-mid-life crisis.

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Once a promising painter herself, Lena Olin's Claire now lives in the shadow of her husband Richard's illustrious career.Courtesy of Strand Releasing

Dolby’s story, co-written with Nicole Brending and Abdi Nazemian, has the potential to go off in myriad interesting directions but flatlines, treating Claire as almost an annoyance in the process. She was once a talented painter herself before abandoning the craft to support her husband, but the film isn’t too curious about exploring the obvious parallel between two artists: one who can no longer create and one who can only flourish thanks to the diminishment of the other.

Olin and Dern do their best, though, even though the latter is mostly rehashing his (excellent) grumpy-old-man shtick from Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and Olin looks desperately sad that she’s no longer given roles the calibre of, say, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (or even television’s Alias).

“Why do we paint?” Richard asks mid-film. “We paint because we have no choice.” I’m sure Dolby had a choice as to whether or not film The Artist’s Wife, though I cannot for the life of me decide why going forward was the only option.

The Artist’s Wife opens in select Canadian theatres Sept. 25

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