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An Evening With Jane Fonda
Film Society of Lincoln Center
June 6, 2012

Written by Frank J. Avella




Why Jane Fonda deserves an Oscar nomination for Peace, Love & Misunderstanding…and why she probably won’t be nominated for an Oscar for Peace, Love & Misunderstanding

Jane Fonda delivers one of her most relaxed, assured and nuanced performances in Bruce Beresford’s good but flawed film, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding. Fonda is the reason to see the film. Each and every frame she is in provides the viewer with an opportunity to observe one of the screen’s finest actresses wholly embody a role that both satirizes her perceived persona and, yet, promotes what she is all about now as a human being.

Fonda has written and spoken about the importance of reflecting on one’s past in order to understand who we are in the present and who we can be in our future. Grace, is someone who lives in the present—funneled through a 1969 era marijuana bong.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center along with Joan’s Digest recently sponsored An Evening with Jane Fonda where she spoke quite candidly about her life, evolution as an actress and person, the craft of acting and her new role as Grace, the life-force behind Peace, Love & Misunderstanding.

In the film, conservative attorney Diane (Catherine Keener), on the verge of a divorce from her uptight husband (Kyle MacLachlan), takes her kids to her mom’s home in Woodstock. These two teens, played winningly by Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff, have never met their grandmother since mom decided to cut Grace out of her life twenty years ago.

Grace has chickens roaming free in her home, grows her own weed, protests the war, frequently paints naked men and indulges in carnal delights when the spirit moves her. She sponsors local music festivals and, with the help of her feminist friends, delights in an all-girl celebration of the moon.

Fonda, herself, never had the time to be a hippie. In the late 60s she was too busy being Roger Vadim’s actress/wife, living in Paris and starring in Barbarella. It wasn’t until the early 70s that her protest days began and she was more an activist than anything else.

This truth doesn’t stop most people from believing that she was actually a hippie and Fonda dives fully into this delicious spoof of the tabloid notions of who she is, but she manages to locate the humanity…the pain of a mother who has been banished from seeing her daughter and her grandchildren. Grace remains true to herself, mega-flaws and all but finds that bridge toward repairing the damage. It’s a miraculous, mesmerizing performance by Fonda.

In a brief scene that requires no dialogue, Fonda and Keener come to an understanding and all we need to do is look at Fonda’s face to know all we need to know about the years of hurt because of her daughter’s desertion and the deep love she feels for Diane, but also the confusion about who her daughter has turned into, and the desire to understand, to learn.

This also describes Fonda in the last act of her life (her words). She has such an intense interest to learn, to know, to understand, to absorb. She’s like an excited child wanting to educate herself, better herself. And it’s in that desire that she makes those around her better as well.

The film is a good example of that since she enhances each moment she shares with her fellow actors and makes the movie better than it should be. One of the issues I have with Beresford’s directing technique is his annoying habit of cutting off scenes before they had a chance to breathe…to come to some sort of conclusion. Fonda stamps each scene with just enough emotion, making up for Beresford’s questionable editing choices.

For all of this and for captivating the audience, Fonda should receive her eighth Oscar nomination. But will she? Can it happen? It’s doubtful.

Jane Fonda has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning twice.

In the late 60s/early 70s, she fast became the female acting force to be reckoned with in American cinema, in large part due to her seminal performances in Sydney Pollack’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? in 1969 and Alan J. Pakula’s Klute in 1971. She was nominated for both and it was widely believed she lost for the former because of the intensely negative feelings many had for her Vietnam War protests. With her role as call-girl Bree Daniels in Klute, she could not be denied and it stands as one of the best screen performances of the 1970s.

Her anti-war activities had her returning to the screen quite infrequently and she turned down roles in Oscar-nommed films such as The Exorcist, Cinderella Liberty, Chinatown and Network.

In the late 70s, she returned with a vengeance in Fred Zinnemann’s Julia (1977), Hal Ashby’s Coming Home (1978) and James Bridges’ The China Syndrome (1979); all three garnered her Lead Actress nominations and Coming Home won Fonda her second Oscar. Another nomination followed in 1981 for Supporting Actress in On Golden Pond. She lost, Katharine Hepburn won (her fourth) and Fonda says (doing a dead-on Hepburn), “You’ll never catch me now!”

At this point, Fonda was the most respected American actress of her generation.

Then, of course, along came…Meryl—although early in Meryl’s career she was often criticized for being cold—the accent queen. It wasn’t until the late 80s that Meryl began to emerge as the force she still is today.

And in the 80s Fonda found her career floundering, turning in solid performances in problematic films like Agnes of God and Stanley and Iris.

In 1986, she received her seventh and final (to date) nomination for a searing, underrated portrayal of a washed-up actress in Sidney Lumet’s The Morning After.

Then she met Ted Turner and gave up acting…for fifteen years. Although Fonda insists that wasn’t the reason:

“It had nothing to do with Ted. Ted saved me. I was really unhappy as a person. I found it really hard to be creative when I felt so not-good in my skin as a woman.”

Regardless of the reason, it was too long a hiatus. Towards the end of writing her memoirs she “was a different person,” and felt she might “find the joy in acting again.” She certainly did.

In 2005, post-Turner refreshed and rejuvenated, Fonda co-starred with Jennifer Lopez in Monster-in-Law—a smart choice since partnering with J-Lo would introduce her to a whole new generation of moviegoers. The film was a box office hit, but critics weren’t kind—they did, however, acknowledge Jane’s impressively nasty performance. There was brief talk of a possible nomination but without Globe recognition, it wasn’t going to happen. Not for a critically lambasted comedy.

The lackluster Georgia Rule gave Jane another decent role in another mediocre pic.

Now, we have Peace, Love & Misunderstanding which has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 28%--which begs the question who in hell are all these reviewers and exactly what is the evaluation process? Not to grouse but when I applied I was told that wasn’t ‘a large enough outlet’ and yet there are Tomatometer critics who write for MUCH smaller outlets. Ah, well.

The film scores a 45 over at the more exclusive metacritic.

Basically, Fonda would need some Golden Globe love for her performance to register. Her reviews are better than good, despite the panning of the film. Oh, and box office couldn’t hurt. Time will tell, but in recent years—unless you’re Judi Dench, actresses over 70 are not nominated for Oscars (Ruby Dee, a recent exception). Even Maggie Smith and Shirley MacLaine are passed over year after year. But this is Jane Fonda! The Meryl before Meryl.

I’m not saying Jane Fonda deserves an eight nomination because she’s Jane Fonda. I’m saying she deserves it because—so far—she has given one of best performances of the year and that should not be forgotten—regardless of the politics in play. Sure, maybe five other, better performances by actresses in a supporting role will emerge. It’s possible. Again, we shall see.

At the Film Society Event, Fonda made the announcement that she is going back to acting school. She realizes her “instrument,” as Lee Strasberg would call it, “needs to be tuned up.” At 74, that is an extraordinary step for an extraordinary actress who deserves proper acclaim for an extraordinary performance.





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