Friday, October 30, 2009

Fatal Attraction

*Just a little opening caveat: The next few films I review may strike you as really random or really outdated. I agree. My explanation for that is that they were required screenings for a grad school course, and since I have considerably less time to watch the latest theatrical releases at the cinema, these films are pretty much all I have to work with at the moment. Hopefully I'll be back with newer stuff next semester!*

Adrian Lyne's Fatal Attraction has the makings of a riveting thriller: strong actors, an original story (for it's time), aesthetically sound cinematography...even the hauntingly beautiful tunes of Madame Butterfly work well to accompany the building of suspense in many scenes, allowing us to forgive the blatant plot similarities between the film and the opera. Still, somehow, somewhere, something goes incredibly wrong. It all starts off intriguingly enough--attorney Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) indulges in a one-night stand with seductive Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) while his trophy wife, Beth (Anne Archer) and daughter Ellen are away for a weekend. Yet he soon realizes the terrifying consequences of his mistake when Alex turns obsessed and willing to resort to any means to make him hers.*

What's admirable about the film is that each actor manages to make his or her character sympathetic to some degree. Although you'd love to despise Douglas for his infidelity, he seems to genuinely regret the affair, as is evident in the way he overcompensates for his actions by suddenly turning into the perfect husband and father immediately afterwards: giving into the repeated requests of his daughter** for a pet rabbit, agreeing to buy the suburban house that his wife loves--we grudgingly understand that despite his mistake, his loyalties lie with his family and he may be getting dealt a rougher hand than he deserves. Anne Archer also wins us over with a sensible performance. While she's blithely unaware of anything amiss for the majority of the film, she doesn't come off as foolish; only trusting, as any wife should have the right to be. Most surprising, though, is that even Glenn Close earns our sympathy (well, at least until about two-thirds of the way into the plot, at which point you're alternately appalled and amused--more on that in a bit). In spite of her pathological tendencies, she portrays her loneliness with a vulnerability that manages to be fairly heart-wrenching, particularly when shots of her sitting alone by her lamp, flicking the light on and off, are juxtaposed with those of Douglas surrounded by his family and friends. However, the sympathy quickly wanes in the third act, when Lyne seems to lose interest in giving her character any nuances and lets her psychotic impulses take over.

Here's where the film slides downhill, going from thrillingly disturbing to ridiculously melodramatic and choppy. The scene where Close "kidnaps" the kid seems to have been inserted at random, while Douglas' confession to his wife is given far less consideration than it warrants. Anne Archer hardly has a chance to explode into an enraged outburst before the scene is rapidly cut short; the next time Douglas and Archer interact, things are back to being hunky-dory without the need for conversation or reflection on why they've found themselves in this situation at all. The film rapidly turns into a sequence of silly chases where we're made to wonder who will destroy whom first. Worst of all is an ending that is just too easy, and all-too reminiscent of the famous bathroom murder scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Surely there must have been a better way to conclude the story than to simply kill off the offending character without any real psychological exploration into her motives.

I know that over the years, the film has achieved iconic status, and for those of you who loved it, I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade. But for me, there are just too many loose strings in the plot to really appreciate it. We're given barely any information about Alex's past; had there been some more exploration into her backstory, we would have been able to better understand the reason for her disturbed mentality. Additionally, it's difficult to believe that a character as decent as Dan--loving father, successful lawyer--would actually be unfaithful. Had there been some initial indication of dissatisfaction with his relationship with his wife, the affair would have been more credible, as we would have understood that there was a deeper reason behind it than just the allure of an attractive woman.*** Thus, while entertaining and, admittedly, capable of maintaining one's attention till the last frame, Fatal Attraction ultimately falls short, giving way to excessive and over-the-top violence, and ruining its potential to be taken too seriously.

* I mean, really, any means. Not to spoil the plot, but boiling pet bunnies is pretty extreme.

**did anyone else not realize until about halfway through the film that the kid was, in fact, a girl? I think I was distracted for a good 45 minutes of the plot because I was too busy trying to figure that out.

***and I'm sorry, but I'm really pushing it when I say Glenn Close is alluring and attractive.