POSTED June 7 2012

Peace, Love and Misunderstanding Jane Fonda

Elizabeth Olsen, Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener in "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding."From Barbarella to elderbabe — is there a better description of the sexy Granola Grandma in Bruce Beresford’s Peace, Love and Misunderstanding? — Jane Fonda has been too big for the confines of the pigeonholes observers have tried to stuff her in. At 74, a working actress for more than a half century, she is one of the few actresses of her generation who has had the opportunity to mature on screen. (Another would be Shirley MacLaine. Can’t think of a third. Can you?) Fonda  is the Silent Generation’s most outspoken and complex character.

After the predictable ingenue roles (Tall Story, Sunday in New York), the daughter of actor Henry Fonda accepted the predictable sex object and young married parts (in campy Barbarella and the sunny Barefoot in the Park). And then she worked to reconcile her social activism with her film persona, with mixed, but never uninteresting, results. If I prefer her soul-scarred performances in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Klute to her consciously soul-stirring turns in Coming Home, Julia and The China Syndrome, and the messiness of her character in The Morning After to the tidiness of same in Nine to Five.  But she’s always engaging. And generous: Look how she throws Nine to Five to Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin; look how she throws China Syndrome to Jack Lemmon.

Fonda’s a terrific writer, too. My Life So Far, her 2005 memoir, is unusually self-aware and moving. Among other topics, it explores her relationship was her aloof father, her bulimia, the evolution of her politics (including her self-flagellation and apology for permitting herself to be photographed in front of anti-aircraft weapons in North Vietnam), her life as a fitness queen and spouse to filmmaker Roger Vadim, activist Tom Hayden and media baron Ted Turner, her failings and successes as a mother and an actress and her late-life religious conversion.

Fonda has evolved, she is evolved. I’ll never understand why her critics continue the “Hanoi Jane” card, reserving their anger for Fonda’s anti-war efforts and not at the chiefs of state who conducted the war in Vietnam.

Although Peace, Love etc. is an iridescent bubble of a movie, she is a stitch. It’s her loosest performance since The Morning After.

Thoughts about Fonda? Favorite performance?



  1. Alice says:

    I too love Jane Fonda! My favorite is a tie between Klute and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and I also love her in The Chase. However, I also like her comedies; she exudes great nervous energy in Nine to Five, and even though Monster-in-Law was a dud on most counts, I admired her game portrayal of beautiful and accomplished woman of a certain age with a boatload of insecurities and neuroses. Her memoir is a fantastic read.

  2. wwolfe says:

    My favorites are Klute and The Morning After. The latter is also one of the really good Los Angeles movies, which is ironic inasmuch as its director, Sydney Lumet, is one of the ultimate New Yorkers. As far as actresses who’ve had a chance to mature on screen, I’d suggest Helen Mirren, who’s about to turn 67, according to IMDb, and whose career shows no signs of slowing down.

  3. Jake says:

    Isnt it fair to say Ellen Burstyn has matured on screen as much as both Fonda and McLaine?

  4. Carrie Rickey says:

    @ Jake: I can think of 40 films that Maclaine and/or Fonda made over 50 years. With Bustyn I can think of about eight, and I never got to see he as a young woman on screen, did you?

    • Jake says:

      I guess it depends on how you categorize Burstyn’s career. If you are talking strictly in film, then yes. But she has more acting credits (film and TV) than both Fonda and MacLaine (almost more than them combined) and has been acting just as long as them. Thanks to Requiem for a Dream she is experiencing a more prolific chapter of her career now than in previous decades.

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