Fatal Attraction - 1987
Director(s): Adrian Lyne
Writer(s): James Dearden
Cinematography by: Howard Atherton
Editor(s): Pete E. Berger and Michael Kahn
Cast: Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Ellen Latzen, Stuart Pankin and Ellen Foley
This year Glenn Close became a seven-time Oscar nominee for her work in The Wife, and for the seventh time, she walked away without the coveted golden statue. This result was a surprise to some, no matter where you fall on who was the "better" or more "deserving" performance between Colman or Close, but it got me wondering about another role many thought Close should've won for; 1987's Fatal Attraction. Her fourth nomination of the 80s, and one of her more controversial characters. Let's talk about it.
The story follows Dan Gallagher (Douglas), a New York attorney "happily" married to Beth (Archer), and they have a daughter, Ellen. Dan works for a publishing company giving them legal advice, and during a book launch party, he meets Alexandra "Alex" Forrest (Close). The chemistry is instant, but he plays nice since he is at the function with his wife. Time passes by, and during a weekend in where his wife and daughter are out of town, Dan runs into Alex in a work meeting that leads to a passionate affair. When Dan says he has to go back to his wife, Alex starts to get persistent and after Dan harshly rejected her advances - things take a dark turn. Alex becomes a dangerous stalker that not only could ruin his work and family life, but it can also cost the life of his loved ones.
I want to first address the controversial aspect of the film, before moving on to the fantastic performances and the director. There has been a long running trope of the career woman being selfish, single-minded, sex-obsessed and in this case "crazy" and dangerous. A trope that still exists in Hollywood today, with "tamer" versions in movies like The Devil Wears Prada and The Proposal (they dropped the sex-obsessed aspect) to name a few. However, in the 80s and the 90s, it was common to see this in a film, but Fatal Attraction takes it to another level when they pitted Close's character versus Anne Archer's (a loving stay-at-home mom). Essentially villainizing the career woman and the stay-at-home mom kills her to save her family - even though the real "villain" is Michael Douglas for putting Archer in that position. Close's Best Actress nomination, while deserved, sparked controversy as it was seen as if the Academy was validating the trope, and ultimately lead to Close losing for the fourth time in five years. And while I can enjoy the performance, this portrayal and trope have not aged well.
Quick note: I understand if you did not enjoy that brief look at Hollywood tropes, but it has always fascinated me how movies reflect the age in where they were conceived - and you can trace a line between women empowerment and the rise of this trope's overuse.
With that out of the way, let's shift to Close's performance, and why it is still considered one of the best in her long and illustrious career. Close could've easily portrayed the character of Alex as an over the top villain, going full-ham, and chewing the scenery each scene, making a spectacle out of it- and while the third act (sadly) does fall prey to that, the complexity behind her loneliness, sexuality, and mental illness drives the first two acts. One buys into her flirty and confident persona, and you start to see the cracks behind the mask as her downward spiral begins. Despite her losing a grip with reality, I was rooting for her in the end as she, along with Archer, are the victims of the situation. Michael Douglas is good in this role of the cheating husband, but sadly he is never given much to play with - we never explore the true "why" he cheated if he was happily married (outside of "you know men").
Adrian Lyne is competent behind the camera, and he apparently has a taste when selecting his scripts, since he would later direct Indecent Proposal and Unfaithful - once again exploring dysfunctional relationships. The script penned by James Dearden shines when it comes to the dialogue delivered by its stars, but the third act falls apart becoming a B-horror movie abandoning what could've been a complexed look into mental health and the destruction of a marriage. However, it looks like a masterpiece when compared to the countless rip-offs that Hollywood has made since its release.
Fatal Attraction is a fun watch that can be enjoyed as a case study of an era (the 80s) or as a stalker thriller with B-horror resolution, elevated by a fantastic performance from Glenn Close. Hopefully, this year is not the last Close gets a crack at an Academy Award as she is one of the greatest actors to grace the silver screen.
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