Glenn Close in The World According to Garp (1982) - Supporting Actress Sundays

Autobiographical Aside: The World According to Garp occupies a tender place in StinkyLulu's heart. First, Garp's the single film of the 1982 Supporting Actress roster that StinkyLulu saw, in the theatre, during its original release. (Indeed, a cursory scan suggests that Glenn Close's performance might well be the first nominated Supporting Actress performance that bears this original screening/original release distinction in StinkyLulu cinephiliac history.) Even more, StinkyLulu has vivid memories of the screening itself. See, 'twas a mere day or two before the Stinky clan was to return to the desert kingdom of Lulu's adolescence and, still, two of the three movies lil Lulu most wanted to see on this trip stateside had not yet been released. Then...bam. Both opened the same day. (Attentive readers might well recall a similar miracle of movie timing that occurred a week or so earlier this same summer.) Such serendipity enabled StinkyLulu to convince Mama and Papa Stinky to take Lil Lulu, along with Inezita, to this R-rated double feature: The World According to Garp and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Truth be told, the whole Stinky clan has long had a weakness for all things Dolly, so Whorehouse was a no-brainer, but 'twas certainly Lulu's insistence that added Garp to the mix. (Somehow Lulu suspects that it was the recent A+ in 8th Grade English, in which StinkyLulu had submitted a prize-winning -- seriously, kids -- book report on the John Irving novel, that secured the Double-Feature lobbying campaign's success.) Even more, StinkyLulu vividly recalls how, while settling into seats several rows ahead of the 'rents, Lulu and Inez fancied themselves infinitely cultured and all-growed up, both blithely unaware of the butt-tastic lockerroom scenes offered in each film as babyfag bonbons. (And now's not even the time to go into the fact that seeing A Chorus Line on Broadway was just 'round the corner, mere days away in StinkyLulu's future.) Ahhhhh. The summer of 1982 may well have been the summer that StinkyLulu became...well...StinkyLulu.

Anyway, amidst all of this, during the drive home, StinkyLulu also has a distinct memory of defending the curiously powerful performance by...

...Glenn Close in The World According to Garp (1982).
approximately 46 minutes and 57 seconds on-screen
34 scenes
roughly 35% of film's total screen time

Glenn Close plays Nurse Jenny Fields, single mother and patrician New England prig-cum-radical, who bucks gender conventions by living her life according to a clear moral philosophy of independent self-determination. The film's first scenes show Close's Jenny -- exuding glib contentment -- as she tells her scandalized wealthy parents (Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn) how she used a brain-injured WWII casualty for stud service (which in Nurse Jenny's moral universe makes infinite practical sense) and how she is now a happy mother of an illegitimate son. And while the rest of the narrative is ostensibly the story of that fatherless boy (Robin Williams, in an admirably precise and understated performance), Close's Jenny hovers as a formidable and enveloping presence throughout.

The accomplishment of Close's performance derives from this presence. Close's Jenny exudes a kind of constancy, a certitude, a confidence, a clarity, an undeniable gravitational pull that rearranges her own (and Garp's) universe. Close's performance makes it clear that Jenny's her son's rock, whether he likes it or not. This is perhaps most evident in the way Close allows Nurse Jenny to age without seeming to change in the slightest. Indeed, as the film tramps along the typical Irving expanse of time, space and idiosyncracy, Close's Jenny seems to change not at all (even when she becomes a radical feminist publishing sensation -- !) and, yet, it's her presence as a stubborn force for healing that continues to guide her son and to reconfigure the world in which he lives. (Indeed, Close's star power -- in her film debut -- nearly dwarfs the film; it's like she's the really really really big momma tossing those big naked babies in the credits.) But it's Close's performance that makes room for the vast queer family at the heart of the film, and, in the end, Close's Jenny makes total sense as the role model for the kind of "family man" Williams' Garp so enjoys becoming, and which the film so lovingly depicts.

See, for StinkyLulu, the galvanizing appeal of John Irving's fictions derives from the queer marriages he stages between biological and chosen families. The world of this film is jam-packed -- in typical Irving style -- with crazy and delightful characters, devoted to each other yet not always connected by conventional blood relations. This constellation -- in turn -- allows for a thrilling accumulation of character performances, big and small, which y'all know Lulu's just a sucker for. Stage legends John Lithgow (as tranny footballer Roberta) and Swoosie Kurtz (as the unsuspecting hooker whose life changes forever after an encounter with Garp & Jenny) are excellent. Kaiulani Lee, Tandy & Cronyn, and Amanda Plummer -- in an electrifying 58 second performance -- are uniformly great. Even Mary Beth Hurt is really good (and StinkyLulu doesn't say that often). And even more than Garp, Close's Jenny heals them all so they become a queerly wonderful family. (And dang if StinkyLulu ain't a total sucker for that...)

Glenn Close's performance remains a kind of mystery to StinkyLulu -- a strangely affecting performance in a curiously effective film, fascinating then and now. Still don't quite know what to think of it in terms of trophies or actressing at the edges, but dang if Close's performance doesn't work some interesting magic here.

SO, lovely reader, there we go; sorry for the delay. Look for Kim Stanley on Wednesday. And just one week until 1982's Supporting Actress Smackdown.... Whee.

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