Jane Fonda in Five Acts ★★★½

Jane Fonda-CAA (Creative Arts Agency) Speaker’s Photo Credit

A Heartfelt Journey That Will Not Be Putting on the Brakes Anytime Soon

Regardless of your feelings towards Jane Fonda on her controversial mistakes in Viet Nam in the 70s, this outstanding documentary sheds light on how Fonda, now (80 years old) ended up in Hanoi during the Viet Nam war in the first place along with the extreme regret and remorse she feels over that period in her life. She apologizes in the film for her actions, as she has so many times over the years. What you may find intriguing is why a privileged Hollywood star at the prime of her career—she’d already won an Academy Award for “Klute” an achievement her American icon father Henry hadn’t yet scored—would even desire to live the vagabond life of an activist.

Director Susan Lacy (“Spielberg,” 2017) digs deep into Fonda’s tragic childhood, told at times, through remarkable home videos, and photographs. We are privy to a very lonely child who grew up coping not only with a manic depressant mother who committed suicide when Fonda was a small child, but a highly cold, critical, and absent father. A family photograph is studied as an example of their false ‘Hollywood dream family’ existence. The photo, staged for publicity, has the look of a family picnic with Jane and her brother Peter, and sadly the parents aren’t looking at their children or each other. Jane’s mother, Frances Ford Seymour, is out of focus, her father; one of Hollywood’s biggest stars at the time is shown smiling while placating the magazine photographer for the press article.

The film’s first four acts are the names of key male figures in Fonda’s life, beginning with her father, Henry, and on to her three famous husbands: Vadim, (Roger Vadim) Tom (Tom Hayden) and Ted (Ted Turner). Fonda, herself narrates most of the film, reflecting on each chapter. Fittingly, the last chapter is titled Jane as it relates to her self-actualization and cathartic release of the men in her life that she so desperately tried to please.

She describes her life with French director Vadim as hedonistic, leaving out the racy details of her book, “My Life So Far,” an excellent read. The Tom section is the activism segment; it also appeared the most volatile, as they lived like gypsies without simple comforts traveling from cause to cause organizing protests, while Tom became less enamored with her. It’s during this time that Fonda came up with the idea to produce a workout video to support their political causes. Her books and videotapes were instant best sellers. She also discusses her battles with eating disorders and her addictive Bulimia condition. Ted is described by Fonda as her favorite x husband, with his sprawling Montana ranches; where she finally found peace, yet also felt his strong dependency in the marriage.

The last section is heartfelt, as she becomes visibly shaken when describing her sadness of not being a better mother to her oldest child Vanessa Vadium, but honestly, with no stable parent role models in Fonda’s life, she’s a bit too hard on herself here. She discusses her new projects, the “Grace and Frankie” TV series and films she’s involved with as well as her women’s rights activism efforts.

The Bottom-Line: The poignancy of the subject’s (Fonda’s) point of view on the various topics adds tremendously to the unfolding of this excellent film. Fonda makes no excuses saying, “I am what I am,” although after viewing the film, one does see how her difficult childhood affected her entire life. It’s truly amazing she was able to persevere leaning only on herself to get her through the darkness and through to the other side. In the end, she went full circle by helping her father win an Academy Award for on “Golden Pond” a play she helped bring to the big screen, and his only Oscar for acting. She should be proud of that as well as so many other accomplishments in her life.

Sarah Knight Adamson September 26, 2018