FATAL ATTRACTION (1987)
Some extramarital affairs are no bargains when the chickens come home to roost. If the chickens are more like hawks with talons, the price rises much higher. As when, in "Fatal Attraction" Yuppie lawyer Michael Douglas has a passionate weekend with career woman Glenn Close. She turns out to be mentally unstable, thinks of herself as a victim, and victimizes her three-day lover.
"Attraction"'s unusual credits state: "screenplay by James Dearden, from his original screenplay. " In fact, Dearden expanded all of "Diversion," a 45-minute British film that he had both written and directed in 1979. This is an excellent, tight work, where a commonplace situation is packed with uncommon twists -- sharply observed, credible, well-directed and acted. It can be seen on television's A & E "Shortstories" program.
In "Diversion," a thirtyish London writer sees his wife and little girl off on a weekend in his mother-in-law's country house. Although he does not look like a philanderer (he is rather colorless and solemn, ) the man immediately calls a young woman met some time ago at a party. She accepts a date, seems to be most realistic about such escapades by married men, treats the shy, embarrassed writer with irony, yet has an instant affair with him.
Right away, she starts making demands on his time, resents his leaving her apartment while she was still post-coitally asleep, wants to see him again, cajoles him with her cooking. What was for the man a passing diversion with a willing partner, becomes a problem as the lady goes as far as blackmail by slashing her wrists .She hounds him by phone, even after the return of the wife and child. "Diversion" stops there, with an open non-end, or lack of closure if you will.
James Dearden, a Britisher, is the son of writer-director Basil Dearden ( "Dead Of Night,"" The Captive Heart,"" Sapphire,"" Khartoum," etc.) For "Diversion" James Dearden was awarded the Gold Plaque -- not by the American Dental Association, but by the 1980 Chicago Film Festival.
The compact DIVERSION says all the better things that are found in "Attraction," and does this more honestly, convincingly and believably. At 121 minutes, "Fatal Attraction" is padded, polysaturated, flashy, almost three times longer but not one-third as good. It was directed by another Englishman, Adrian Lyne, who came from TV commercials and applied their techniques to his two earlier features: "Flashdance," and the artsy , kinky-sex obsessed, hard-breathing "9 1/2 Weeks."
The transformation of "Diversion" into 'Attraction," the compromises this entailed (a different ending was shot originally), make it obvious that Dearden and Lyne took a coherent, sensitive product, fiddled with it , spiced it up with sensationalism and mass appeal gimmickry..
This is not to say that "Fatal Attraction" is bad. Though flawed, its first two-thirds are quite interesting. But when the makers commit the public-pandering error of adding to the basic "Diversion" theme the dimension of a film noir thriller, "Attraction" becomes ludicrous, disintegrates rapidly, accelerates its ripening to the point of gaminess.
Douglas and Close meet briefly at a party. A second time at a business reunion. A third time in the street . They have an instant, torrid weekend affair. He wants to end it. She does not , and makes his life miserable , pursues him in every way, becomes increasingly demented, claims that she is pregnant, and does very nasty things to Douglas, his car and his family.
>From sequence One , defects creep in slowly, at first perhaps visible only to the habitual moviegoer, but later more and more noticeable. Before Douglas and Close meet, the movie engages in too much cinematic foreplay, with all the standard film and TV homey preliminaries that set up the happy family ambience chez Douglas, his attractive wife Anne Archer, and their child. The initial Douglas-Close encounter is also too cutied up the second is natural, the third is full-time movie cliches : Douglas , struggling with a defective umbrella in a Manhattan downpour is rescued by Close, who happens to be close by. After a facile witticism which Asian audiences will not appreciate (" the umbrella must have been made in Taiwan") the two fail to get a taxi, have a drink. You could guess the rest from as far away as Hollywood and Vine, as Close comes on very strong to Douglas. The interplay is nicely scripted and played however. But when we cut to love-making of scorching intensity, the lust is out of character with Douglas . As in his other roles, Douglas has a pallid screen personality. With his furious carnality, Director Lyne --all surface and no depth --establishes with drill-hammer subtlety the equation of sex and violence.
The copulation literally throws in the kitchen sink , where it all begins with the grace of mating wildebeest , Dolbyized panting and groaning, and jutting, flowing faucets out of Film 269 :"Introduction to Sex Symbolism." Physically joined, the couple repair to the bed's horizontality. Their exertions, if copied nationally, would make all chiropractors into millionaires.
The film's artsy explicitness continues bulldozing its point through a transitional close-up of a bubbling percolator. (This is doubly artificial , since a chic woman like Close would have an expresso machine, a Melitta filter, or a Neapolitan macchinetta). Unleashed physicality later resumes in a freight elevator, shot with suspense-story camera angles.
Yet even with its overkill, the movie works nicely whenever it follows closely "Diversion" in plot, details, characterization and dialogue. It does a great deal of this--but at the same time it keeps getting uselessly jazzed up . The modified plot requires a confidant for Douglas . So be it, but why make him into an awful, forced character (Stuart Pankin)? "Attraction" adds more leaden symbolism via "Madame Butterfly", as a nudge-nudge "cultural" reference for upscale audiences--Butterfly being another desperate "other woman" abandoned by her lover.
The feature even resorts to the old film noir convention of the swinging lamp that produces now light, now shadow; or the trick of the mistress visiting the wife under false pretenses. Close's claiming a Douglas-induced pregnancy is hard to accept, as the movie's unclear time-frame makes it unacceptably premature. Since Close is a fabulatrix who will say anything to keep her man, a better script would have kept us wondering about the pregnancy. Instead, it is not merely confirmed. The plot works in a rabbit -- a fertility symbol, not to mention the rabbit pregnancy test .
That an ordinary, staid type like Douglas, happily married to a charming wife, and with family portraits on his desk, could have a fling with a temptress , is credible. His misadventure with Close is also credible. And in spite of its supercharged excesses, the basic movie is still credible --until it disintegrates by dragging in silly , gratuitous shock-and-scare tactics a la sub-Hitchcock (without the Master's finesse and cool), a la Brian De Palma (Hitch's seldom successful imitator) and other filmmakers.
Its nadir may well be in the blatant references to "Psycho"'s cutlery and shower. But the movie is to Hitchcock what rabbit ears are to cable, and all it can invent is to go from the shower shots to a xerox copy of the bathtub scene of the French classic "Les Diaboliques."
The clutter of sexually-oriented slashing and plumbing paraphernalia --and a last, totally inadmissible twist involving the wife -- give "Fatal Attraction "a fatal blow. "Attraction" does to "Diversion" what a pretentious nouveau-riche might do to a classic dobosch torte by loading it with all the whipped cream, fruit, ice-cream and nuts stored in the refrigerator
Like its source, " Attraction" is a movie of two characters but to fill the available time, the wife's role was built up . Pretty Anne Archer's face is set into one, unwavering cheerful smile, which might in part explain why hubby strayed, but it does not work that way, as nowhere is Douglas shown as suffering from marital monotony. Then, It's Thriller Time! and Archer wrings her hands, has a generic fit and does the dumb things the director asks her to do.
There is no supporting cast. All other actors are mere extras. Douglas's performance is competent yet also generic. But Close is very, very good in the gradations of her acting. At the start she is an attractive, assertive single. She rapidly becomes someone who is interestingly unorthodox yet also unsettling in an undefined way. Increasingly disquieting, she evolves into a menacing maniac, into a personality which is abnormal but convincing, with each successive appearance having its own demented logic. Her physical changes are also cleverly thought through. Close's luxuriant hair becomes gradually dishevelled . What was originally a trendy, Gorgon look, becomes like the head of the Medusa. And Close's steady, unflinchingly direct eyes , change into the stare of Medusa who could petrify those she looked upon. Glenn Close should be remembered at Oscar time.
[Written 26 November 1987, during a period when no ratings with stars were used by me]