Thirty years after the release of Fatal Attraction — it opened in theaters on Sept. 18, 1987 — Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest still will not be ignored.
The movie, which follows a married man (Michael Douglas) who has a brief fling with a work acquaintance (Close) who becomes unhinged after he tries to break things off, was a hit when it was released — ranking No. 1 at the box office for eight consecutive weeks and prompting nationwide discussions about female sexuality and gender politics.
In the three decades since, the bunny-boiling Alex has endured, and you can see her influence in all the jilted female characters that followed on the big screen. Read on to see what critics thought of the film, and Close’s performance, when the film was released 30 years ago.
Janet Maslin, The New York Times: “So what does he do? He doesn’t bother to resist, that’s all. Audiences who saw the seduction coming will also see its byproduct, a streak of persistence and vindictiveness from the woman who considers herself wronged. As in Play Misty for Me, still a classic of this genre, this spurned lover’s pique becomes ever more terrifying as the film progresses. Most of her tricks are unsurprising, but they are unnerving anyway, so effectively does Mr. Lyne create the happy Gallagher family that Alex means to destroy. The film becomes more predictable and violent as it goes along, but at least one of her methods, having to do with the Gallaghers’ search for a storybook house in the suburbs, is indeed ingenious.”
Rita Kempley, The Washington Post: “In the era of AIDS, the strictures of monogamy also take on new importance, which Lyne’s films Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal ultimately reinforce. In both films, the intruders — Glenn Close and Redford — are repelled and the family is reunited. Ultimately it comes down to traditional family values, the homespun hokum that has put the Clintons, Bushes and Reagans in the White House.”
Dave Kehr, Chicago Tribune: “There is a monster stalking America, and it has not fangs but a briefcase, not cloven hooves but a smartly tailored suit. On the evidence of The Jagged Edge, Beverly Hills Cop II, Fatal Attraction and now Baby Boom, the most feared figure in Hollywood films is the career woman. She can be humiliated, tamed or blown away, but she must be eliminated, or so our increasingly misogynistic movies are telling us.”
Michael Wilmington, The Los Angeles Times: “Alex and Dan are both drawn well enough to divide our sympathies. For about 90% of the running time, we’re watching something near a real psychological thriller: a story whose shocks come not from Grand Guignol or violent action, but the psychological clashes. There’s a genuine conflict here: Gallagher accepts his life and boundaries; Alex can’t. And though she may be close to crazy, she’s still expressing her own principle. To reject her position summarily is to risk rejecting the validity of passion, even unreasonable passion. To side unequivocally with Gallagher, as we’re asked to do at the end, is to validate the safe, facile evasions of his world.”
Richard Schickel, Time: “That the two principals are ostensibly mature professionals, not adolescent airheads, gives the film some of its fatal attractiveness. So do James Dearden’s plausible, nicely observant script, Adrian Lyne’s elegantly unforced direction, and Close’s beautifully calibrated descent into lunacy. Together they bring horror home to a place where the grownup moviegoer actually lives. Men will suddenly, squirmingly, recall times when they barely escaped the consequences of their caprices. Women have been seen emerging from this movie wearing secret smiles. Their surrogate may be a nut case, but she is also a familiar case, and there are sisterly pleasures in seeing her madly prosecute it.”
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: “Fatal Attraction is a spellbinding psychological thriller that could have been a great movie if the filmmakers had not thrown character and plausibility to the winds in the last minutes to give us their version of a grown-up Friday the 13th. Because the good things in the movie — including the performances — are so very good, it’s a shame that the film’s potential for greatness was so blatantly compromised.”
Desson Howe, Washington Post: “Close gives Alex dimension. This woman, who appreciates opera as much as occasional wrist-slashing, can be as demure as a librarian. She can also be suddenly sexy (which is how Dan, played convincingly by Douglas, got into this mess in the first place). Her justifications for her actions (a need for a rewarding human relationship without kitchen utensils) make her quite a tragic figure — until she becomes the female equivalent of the vengeance-crazed Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear or the robotic Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator. Close should take pride in her performance. She should also expect a depressing avalanche of scripts requiring a she-wacko.”
Nigel Floyd, Time Out: “The film finally comes to the boil in the brilliantly staged, crowd-pleasing finale – a nail-biting showdown between a knife-wielding Close, a frightened wife and an enraged Douglas. A predictable dog’s dinner of Pavlovian thriller clichés, this will appeal strongly to those who think women should be kept on a short lead.”
Pauline Kael, New Yorker: “[Alex] parrots the aggressively angry, self-righteous statements that have become commonplaces of feminist fiction, and they’re so inappropriate to the circumstances that they’re proof she’s loco. They’re also the director Adrian Lyne’s and the screenwriter James Dearden’s hostile version of feminism. The film is about men seeing feminists as witches, and the way the facts are presented here, the woman is a witch. … The violence that breaks loose doesn’t have anything to do with the characters who have been set up; it has to do with the formula they’re shoved into.”