Friday, August 3, 2018

Close to Perfection

Bjorn Runge (Director), Glenn Close, and Jonathan Pryce at The Monkey Bar following a special New York screening of "The Wife" at the Paley Center. Photo: Marion Curtis/StarPix©2018
Glenn Close To Perfection In "The Wife"; Praising Padma.
by Denis Ferrara

“ONE
of the reasons I never re-married, despite a bewildering range of offers, was the determination NEVER AGAIN to be ordered about!!”

All fans of Glenn Close and her portrayal of ice-in-her-veins Marquise de Merteuil in 1988’s “Dangerous Liaisons” recall this big moment in the film. 

Well, to be fair, all of her — and co-star John Malkovich’s — moments were “big.”  It was like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in powdered wigs and more measured tones.
The Marquise was one of characters that solidified Ms. Close’s screen rep as a, well — hard case.  In a long and varied career — which began with young Ms. Close playing the mother of young Robin Williams in “The World According to Garp” — Glenn has become most famous for boiling bunnies, skinning Dalmatians, doing all sorts of “Damages” on the acclaimed TV series and, of course, driving everybody to suicide or murder in the aforementioned “Dangerous Liaisons.” 

For sure she has played more than her fair share of nice, vulnerable — if strong — characters, but there is something about the serene luminosity of her skin, her features, a face not given to extreme contorting, even in distress, that has earned her less edifying portrayals an enduring, wonderfully perverse legacy.
 And so it is something to see, her latest, exquisitely controlled woman-on-the-edge performance in “The Wife.” All her qualities of strength and softness are so carefully, delicately laid out, scene by scene.  The plot?  She is the dutiful, intelligent wife of a famous writer, a writer who has been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. (Jonathan Pryce, also wonderful.)  Something is amiss in this “perfect” marriage, this loving partnership of genius and helpmate.  Their children know it, and so does a somewhat sleazy writer (Christian Slater) who is writing a biography of the great man and pursues the couple to Stockholm, Sweden. (They all travel on the grand old Concorde — I could have wept at that alone.)

Although the issues in the marriage — and “issues” hardly covers the secret — is established fairly quickly, I’d rather not do a big reveal here.  Suffice to say it is set in 1992, with flashbacks to the 1950’s and early '60s when men were men were men — kind of — and women felt “obliged.” 
Ms. Close and Jonathan Pryce in "The Wife.'
Ms. Close attended the screening last week at Paley Center in New York and the party after at The Monkey Bar. To appreciate the power and craft of her work in “The Wife” is to watch the film — wary, worried, tired to the bone, unsatisfied, moving rather slowly — life has been unexpectedly disappointing, and then to see her in the slender, vibrant flesh. Cropped sliver-blonde hair, dressed in glamorous black with a bit of discreet cleavage.  A movie star from head to open-toed heel. (I sat almost directly in front of her, and when she took her bow before the film began, I was struck by how swiftly, almost girlishly, she leapt to her feet, happily allowing the applause to rise.)

I thought the film itself was not quite up to the three main performances. (Mr. Slater is terrifically smarmy, and still so sexy!)
Not bad by any means, but perhaps missing out on some aspects of Glenn’s character, the relationship between herself and her husband, that might have provided a more satisfying explanation for her subservience.  It’s there on the screen, but never addressed.  This frustrated me. But that is nitpicky indeed.  There is nothing frustrating about Glenn Close’s performance. It is all and more than one has come to expect from this gracious, supremely talented and patient six-time Oscar nominee.
Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce at last week's screening at the Paley Center.
THE PARTY after at the Monkey Bar was lots of fun.  I hadn’t been there in a while.  Aside from the film’s director, Bjorn Junge, screenwriter Jane Anderson, various execs from Sony Classic Pictures and four of the stars, among the noshing, chattering throng was Dan Abrams, Kaity Tong, Diane Sawyer, Joy and Regis Philbin, Kevin Sessums, Scott Gorenstein, Roger Friedman, Gay and Nan Talese, Dick Cavett and Miss Tina Louise.

Tina had been expecting dinner, rather than the small tasties passed around.  Hungry, she left fairly quickly, but not before we’d chatted about another memoir she might be publishing, her fear of shellfish, the satisfaction of her early success on Broadway in “Li’l Abner,” her first film, “God’s Little Acre,” and how much she loved to sing. We shared an admiration for Billie Holiday and I suggested a “Tina Louise Sings Billie Holiday” act or recording.  Tina inhabits a slightly vague, very charming world of her own.  But she seemed quite amenable to such an effort. (Or it was just the hunger talking.)  I also had a long chat with producer Fred Rappaport.  We spoke of our mutual friend director/writer/producer Linda Yellen and her latest film, “Fluidity.” Rappaport also told of some real-life experiences with our current president, long before he was our president. Interesting, in a grim way.

Glenn Close’s entrance at the Monkey Room was a movie-queen triumph of camera flashes and congratulations, hugs and kisses.  Her table was swamped the entire night, and she looked thrilled, radiant.  I always think it pointless to attempt a “real” interview in situations like this — I prefer one-on-one.  But I leaned in and said what she’d heard all night long, “You were wonderful.”  With a wide smile that transforms her face, she said, “Really?” in a way that made me want to hand her the Oscar right then and there.

Yes, Miss Close, really.
Annie Starke, Jonathan Pryce, and Glenn Close
Kaity Tong Regis and Joy Philbin
Meg Wolitzer, Jane Anderson, and Annie Starke
Christian Slater Nan and Gay Talese
Tom Bernard, Claudia Bluemhuber, and Michael Barker
ENDQUOTES: Padma Lakshmi is the gorgeous cookbook author, model, sort-of actress and most famously the host of TV’s “Top Chef” show for the last 16 years!  Recently Ms. Lakshmi was honored by the prestigious James Beard Foundation at  a little get together called Chefs and Champagne, an annual orgy of good food and the right people at Sagaponack’s Wolffer Estate.

Padma Lakshmi photographed by Helmut Newton.
Writer Gregory Speck, tearing himself away from the caviar, lobster, shrimp, octopus, salmon, scallops and oysters (If you were are carnivore I guess you were out of luck, this night in Sagaponack), got in a few words with Padma. Of her long and varied career she credits “Helmut Newton, who truly launched me at an early age, shooting me nude and showing my big scar from my accident.” (A car crash when she was 14.)  And she had lavish praise for Anna Wintour who shepherded her modeling career through Conde Nast. “I owe her so much.” Lakshmi credits her modeling as a gateway to acting roles such as 2001’s “Glitter” the 2006 TV miniseries “Cleopatra” and another feature “Mistress of Spices.”  That Padma actually mentioned “Glitter” deserves a big hand.  Even its star, Mariah Carey has tried to forget it! (I didn’t think it was nearly as bad as critics said.)

As for the most fun Padma’s ever had on TV, her “Top Chef” duties notwithstanding — when she appeared once as a judge of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race.”

By the way, writer Speck just returned from a vacation in Venice where he was pleasantly surprised to find many of its most legendary spots were celebrating anniversaries. Ferretti Yachts, Hotel Cipriani, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the Gritti Palace Hotel all threw lavish parties, all of which the erudite Mr. Speck threw himself into with lavish gusto.  He was moved to comment, “Thus passes the glory of the world” (That is the English translation for “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” which was used in papal coronation ceremonies for centuries.)  I say, until Venice sinks, the glory is still in the present tense. 

Of course, whenever I hear that phrase, I think of Elizabeth Taylor in “Butterfield 8.”  At one point ET, playing high-class hooker Gloria Wandrous, explains to her lover, Laurence Harvey, “You know that saying, “Sic transit Gloria?  Well, I’m the Gloria, and in my case the sick is real sick.  I’m not too sure about the transit — I think it has something to do with my car…waitress, can I have another order of French fries?” 

Listen, for this alone, she deserved that first Oscar.
 
Contact Denis here.