There had been so much advance word on Glenn Close in this film, that by the time I saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival, I was expecting to see something astonishing that would rock my world, and mesmerize me on so many levels. It does not happen, and though Close is very good in the film, it is hardly the sort of performance that wins Academy Awards, though make no mistake, she is well liked enough, and has lost enough times, that she could indeed win an Oscar for this. The actress has been trying to get a film version made since playing the part on stage thirty years ago, just as her film career was taking off with her superb performance in The World According to Garp (1982). In her early film work she seemed to be cast as this saintly woman, not better than the rest of us, just capable of better actions than the rest of us. It began with The World According to Garp (1982) and an Oscar nomination, and was followed in rapid succession by The Big Chill (1983) and then The Natural (1984) in which she is portraying for all intent and purpose, an angel. When Maxie (1985) failed, and did so miserably, she took stock of her career and came roaring back with Fatal Attraction (1987) as the date from hell, a single woman, deeply troubled who gets involved with a married man and makes his life a living hell. Sexy, and I mean drop dead sexy, close was remarkable in the film, showing a side of herself as an actor on film audiences had never previously seen, and she terrified them. Nominated for an Oscar she should have won, the film was a smash hit and Close was atop Hollywood.
She gave an even better performance the following year as the deadly Marquise De Mertteuil in the film adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons (1988) again earning an Academy Award nomination that many felt she should have won. Within two short years she had overhauled her image in Hollywood and seemed to be on a new trajectory. Subsequent performances in Hamlet (1990), Reversal of Fortune (1990), The Paper (1992), 101 Dalmatians (1996) and Air Force One (1997) did little to challenge her talents as an actor though they did keep her in the public eye. A return to the stage as Norma Desmond in the musical sunset Boulevard won her another Tony, one of four she has received, and that project has long been discussed as a film, with either Close or Meryl Streep attached. With her latest box office power, Streep is the more likely candidate. Her work on television had earned her strong reviews, and finally she had cobbled together the means to make Albert Nobbs (2011), though many felt she was not too old to make the film.
Her performance as a woman masquerading as a man in Victorian England is very good, but never did I believe the charade or that it would work. It’s a tough one to pull off, because we the audience are aware of the play acting, but a great actor can often turn it around and at some point we forget we are watching a woman pretending to be a man, or man pretending to be a woman. It happened in Tootsie (1982) with Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey becoming Dorothy Michaels. At some point we stopped thinking about the fact we were watching an actor trying to be a woman, because he had stopped trying and had simply done it. Dorothy existed. We gave ourselves over to Dorothy because Hoffman had created a full blooded person with Dorothy. As formidable an actor as Close is she never quite pulls it off. There is something vaguely Stan Laurel about her appearance, that odd small smile causing her to look like for all the world one half of the famous comedy team. At times she looks as though she might burst into tears for no apparent reason. Working at a Dublin hotel, her secret is discovered by a painter with a similar secret and together they forge a friendship. I suppose what hurts the performance of Close the most is the performance of Janet McTeer, a woman doing the same thing, but who is remarkably convincing as a man. Maybe it is because we see less of her than Close (a shame) or perhaps it is because Close just tries too hard with her clenched voice and bemused smile, and McTeer does not have to try at all.she just is.
It’s a noble effort, and you can see the passion with which the film was created in every frame. Sadly sometimes that is not enough. That Oscar for Best Actress has slipped away.