“I just wanted to be ok. I wanted to be a good girl.”—Jane Fonda.
Those are startling admissions from the two-time Oscar®-winning actress and polarizing political activist who President Richard M. Nixon and his cronies loved to hate.
Emmy® Award-winning filmmaker Susan Lacy, now a producer/director at HBO, undoubtedly had her hands full when she signed on to bring some sort of structure and closure to the first seven decades of Jane Fonda’s life. Not to worry. Lacy, the creator and mastermind behind the long-running, Award-winning American Masters series on PBS, had more than enough tools in her toolbox and chutzpah to get the job done. Jane Fonda in Five Acts is filmmaking at its very best.
Even if you think you know everything you need to know about Jane Fonda. Think again. Grab a seat, or program your DVR. Jane Fonda in Five Acts debuts on HBO tonight, Monday, September 24, 2018, from 8:00 – 10:15 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO play dates in the days and weeks ahead and the film’s availability on DVD, HBO On Demand and streaming via HBO Max.)
Septuagenarian Jane Fonda is an engaging, articulate participant here, and “Hanoi Jane” is dead and buried. Filmmaker Lacy clearly had Fonda pegged from the outset when she divided the film into five acts, four of them named for the pivotal men in Fonda’s life: her dad, Hollywood icon Henry Fonda; French writer/director Roger Vadim; community activist, radical and politician Tom Hayden; and media tycoon Ted Turner.
Jane Fonda in Five Acts is lush with film clips; TV interviews from various points in her career; color home movies shot by her dad; vintage photos; and sober reflections from two of her three husbands; her best friend, producer Paula Weinstein; her environmental activist pal and co-star, Robert Redford; the late actor/director Sydney Pollack ; her son Troy Garity; step-daughter Nathalie Vadim; and adopted daughter Lulu.
The home movies are lovely and the film clips (Henry’s and Jane’s) are well-chosen. The clips are clear reminders that no matter how tarnished her political profile, Jane Fonda never lost her love affair with the camera and brilliance as an actress. Riddled with self-doubt as a woman and an artist, she recalls her early experience studying with Lee Strasberg– nervously expecting his condemnation, but receiving, instead, unexpected validation.
I especially relished clips from Barefoot in the Park (1967), a bubbly romantic comedy with lifelong pal Robert Redford; as well as Fonda’s recollections about her personal discomfort filming Vadim’s explicit Barbarella (1968 ); her segue into social issue dramas with They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969) and timely environmental cautionary tales via The China Syndrome (1979); her scheme to go off script and “touch” her dad in a pivotal scene in On Golden Pond (1981); and inspirations for her Academy Award®-winning roles in Klute (1971) and Coming Home (1978).
Aside from the clips, there are enough “aha moments” to keep you glued to your seat for 2-1/4-hours. There was much more than meets the eye (or the “fake news” of the day) to her foray into fitness and her reasons for venturing into North Vietnam in the first place.
Left unsaid or merely implied is the fact that her husbands were driven by self-interest and benefited in various degrees from her status as Hollywood royalty, her bank account and her willingness to do almost anything to assure her commitment to their lives and vision. Fonda paid a steep price by stifling good judgment in the service of men, often to the detriment of her children and her own well-being (she admits to suffering from bulimia for many years, a byproduct of her dad’s obsession with weight). Hanging over her like a rash was the most powerful man on the planet during the Vietnam War, President Richard M. Nixon, whose henchmen hounded her and whose voice can be heard denouncing her at the top of this film.
Lacy titled the last act of Jane Fonda in Five Acts simply: “Jane.” Act 5 zeroes in on Jane Fonda, the survivor, who, despite having absorbed decades of identities in roles she was hired and psychologically conditioned to play on stage, screen and in real life, now thrives comfortably in her own skin… with a little help from cosmetic surgery and various hip and knee replacements.
As a dynamic woman’s rights and grassroots activist, Fonda now talks the talk and walks the walk with a mature perspective that reflects an apologetic, forgiving and grateful heart. She is especially keen on reaching out to very young, old and low-income minority women, who may find it especially difficult to rise up to the challenges raised by the #metoo and #timesup movements. While Acts 1-4 provide a treasury of Fonda family cinema lore, Act 5 ensures the film’s evergreen value as a women’s issues, rights and activism discussion catalyst in high schools, colleges and community and counseling programs.
If you need assurances that it’s never too late for your final act to be fresh and new and, above all, meaningful, I urge you to catch Jane Fonda in Five Acts on HBO tonight, September 24, 2018, from 8:00 – 10:15 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO play dates in the days and weeks ahead and the film’s availability on DVD, HBO On Demand and streaming via HBO Max.) Fun Fact: Jane Fonda turns 81 on December 21, 2018.–Judith Trojan