We know a lot about Jane Fonda.
We are familiar with her stamina, her activism, her intact youthfulness and, of course, her talent for acting. What new light could a five-act documentary shed on her figure at this point in time?
“This is the beginning of my last act, and in order to know how to go forward -Fonda narrates- I’m gonna have to know where I’ve been”.
The moment it gets going, it becomes blatant that Jane Fonda in Five Acts is not a vanity project, but an extremely honest and poignant way for a woman who happens to be famous and revered, to revisit her life and make amends with who she has become. The piece is a shot at redemption whereby the actress takes us through the men of her life – her much-admired father Henry Fonda and her three husbands – and explains with a shocking degree of honesty how she has managed to keep her demons at bay and find meaning.
It is tempting to label Fonda’s deconstruction of her family as sensationalist. After all, she is white, rich and extremely privileged — so no wonder many will see this an indulgence. Still, Fonda addresses her life from that same lens of acknowledgment, unapologetically displaying her Beverly Hills mansion but demanding attention for all she has decided to confess.
Fonda concedes: “I wanted to please all the men in my life. I never felt real”. From her dad, who she wishes had been more present and loving; to her three husbands, for whom she has words of admiration but whose alcoholism, womanizing or insecurities for having a more successful woman on their side proved insurmountable.
Despite her life having been glossy from the very beginning, her upbringing was nothing short of difficult. I found especially moving -although gobsmackingly transparent- the way she refers to her mother, who she always felt as someone absent and anxious. She felt her love, and so can we, but her deteriorating mental health and eventual suicide entailed a huge blow to her sense of identity as a child. “Is it that I wasn’t lovable?”, Fonda wonders. This question remains unanswered until the Fifth Act of the documentary, before which the actress attempts to find her narrative and understand why her parents were who they were; going very deep into her life journey to truly comprehend the reasons why things unfolded as they did. This curiosity and longing to make sense of her life is disarming and extremely moving.
Her activism in the anti-war movement -which won her the antipathy of half the country, Nixon included- and her prolonged engagement in causes like melting poles or workplace assault, reveals a deeply charismatic and defiant woman who I would be ready to vote for with my eyes closed. It isn’t just her otherworldly eloquence and wit, but the sincerity with which she presents her flaws that make her one of our essentials.
Throughout the documentary, Fonda cries, she laughs and, most importantly, she forgives. All in all, Jane Fonda in Five Acts is a raw and compelling account of one of our era’s most extraordinary women — which allows us to witness her healing process with a level of transparency rarely seen on television.