Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Jane Fonda Joins a Book Club

Of course, as a woman of a certain age, I belong to a book club. So, while on a recent plane flight, I couldn’t resist checking out Book Club, a film featuring some rather spectacular women of a certain age: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen. This movie—basically a romantic comedy for the AARP set—touches on the very real challenges of getting older. Like: facing the dwindling of sexual opportunities. And coping with grown children who insist on denying you any fun, just in case you might fall and break a hip. Sometimes Book Club is endearing, sometimes merely embarrassing. But it’s a hoot watching four lovely ladies (who among them have earned four Oscars and six Emmys) hold the screen.

The writers of Book Club surely tailored each role to the actress who would be bringing it to life. The part of a ditsy widow too intimidated to pursue romance is perfectly suited to the talents of fluttery Diane Keaton. Mary Steenburgen shines as a still-cute housewife trying desperately to coax her husband into bed. (Her story contains the largest amount of slapstick and has the least convincing outcome, but I have always been susceptible to her sunny charm.) Wry Candice Bergen owns some lively moments as a federal judge thrown into a tailspin by her ex-husband’s engagement to a Barbie Doll type. Exploring on-line dating, she finds herself encountering some much shorter men, including balding tax accountant Richard Dreyfuss. Finally there is Jane Fonda, as a brittle but very successful entrepreneur who oozes sex appeal but has always dodged marriage.

Fonda looks slim and gorgeous, though (at 81) she’s much the oldest of the four women. She’s also totally convincing, though in the distant past I have tended to find her comedy roles (in films like Barefoot in the Park and Fun With Dick and Jane) rather belabored.  That plane flight gave me the opportunity to explore her life (Thanks, Delta!), because one of the other onboard offerings was a fascinating 2018 documentary, Jane Fonda in Five Acts. This film, made with Fonda’s full cooperation, walks the viewer through her remarkable career as an actress, activist, and fitness guru. The first four acts of the title represent the eras in which Fonda’s life was shaped by men: by her father, actor Henry Fonda; by first husband, filmmaker Roger Vadim; by second husband, activist/politician Tom Hayden; and by third husband, media tycoon Ted Turner. In on-camera interviews, Jane Fonda freely admits that her low self-esteem has long made her susceptible to the influence of attractive males.  With her glamorous but chilly father and with each of her husbands, she strove to remake herself in order to win approval. It was only after divorcing Turner in 2001 that she feels she has come into her own as a woman with her own beliefs, goals, and enthusiasms. It’s ironic, therefore, that Book Club casts her as the gal who has chosen never to marry, until an attractive and persistent man convinces her he can love her just the way she is.

I was struck in particular by two of the documentary’s revelations. First, that although she admires the wrinkled face of her good friend, Vanessa Redgrave, Fonda lacks the courage to allow herself to age naturally. Yes, she’s had some work done. Second, the disapproval she sensed from her own mother (who later committed suicide in a mental institution) stunted her own ability to show motherly warmth. That’s why it’s largely on her own daughter’s behalf that she has made this film. 

No comments:

Post a Comment