It’s easy to get swept up in the hand-wringing that often comes with discussions about culture in the 21st century. People spend too much time on their phones, they never pick up a book (not true, at least in the UK) and all they want to watch is blockbusters (sadly pretty accurate). One thing that has never been better in my opinion is TV.
In our internet age, TV has expanded way beyond the confines of the box in our living rooms. Its online streaming: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, BBC iPlayer among the dozens of offerings by established networks, and many are producing their own original content. Netflix is the legitimate service I’m signed up to (my patience for finding working links on naughty streaming sites has long since expired) and its Originals series really do justify the monthly fee*.
Top of my watch list right now is Frankie & Grace, a comedy starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in the respective eponymous roles. Frankie and Grace are two very different women whose husbands, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterstone, shock their wives by announcing that they’ve been having a 20 year long affair and want to get married. It’s a little odd imagining Sheen as one half of a gay couple, especially if you’re used to his turn as the President in The West Wing or drenched in jungle sweat in Apocalypse Now, but the ladies are very much the heart of this show.
Over 13 episodes, Frankie and Grace learn to tolerate each other’s quirks and support each as older women getting used to being single after decades of marriage. One of my favourite moments comes when they embark on a ‘Say Yes Night’ (a carpe diem kind of thing, where they can’t refuse any request). Gloriously, this ends up with them dancing on the bar at a club, having swapped outfits for the evening. I’m pretty sure Jane Fonda is the only 70+ year old who can pull off the punk look.
This, among other reasons, is why she gets my vote for this week’s #womancrushwednesday. Apart from a guest role in The X Files, I’m less familiar with Tomlin’s work. Clearly I have a lot of catching up to do.
Here’s a couple more reasons why we should all feel fonder of Fonda (sorry):
1. She’s an interesting, complex older woman rocking it in an industry obsessed with youth
Actresses frequently see the number and variety of roles offered to them dive after 40. Maggie Gyllenhaal recently revealed that at 37, she’d been deemed too old to play the lover of a 55-year-old man.
Now Frankie & Grace isn’t the only show on TV boasting an incredible older cast. On the darker side, there’s the characters of Miss Rosa, Red & Vee on Orange is the New Black, as well as Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates & Angela Bassett on American Horror Story. Mary McDonnell plays a strong game as a police chief in Major Crimes. All meaty, dramatic roles. However, Fonda injects introspection and sexuality (yes, this show features OAP sex) into what is essentially a comedy. Making people reflect AND laugh is a tough gig.
2. She survived working with Katharine Hepburn
In 1981, Fonda produced and acted in On Golden Pond. The film featured her father Henry Fonda, then 76, and Katharine Hepburn as a couple weathering family drama and the trials of old age. Both won Oscars for their portrayal.
It was a difficult, but ultimately rewarding, film for Jane as the storyline in many ways mirrored her own rather distant relationship with her father. It can’t have been easy working with the infamously prickly Hepburn either. In a couple of interviews, Fonda recalled how Hepburn took an instant dislike to her, perhaps because she didn’t approve of female actors who muddied their talents with marriage and motherhood. And when Fonda failed to scoop the Best Supporting Actress prize at the Academy Awards, the four-time Oscar winner rubbed it in: “You’ll never catch me now!”
3. She starred in the hilariously camp 60s film Barbarella
Directed by her then husband Roger Vadim, this is a 1968 cult film featuring Fonda as the ‘highly sexual’ superheroine Barbarella, who is tasked with stopping an evil genius from destroying Earth.
The beginning credits include some wonderful cinematography as Barbarella sensuously removes her spacesuit; however, its a later scene in which the baddie tortures her in his dastardly Excessive Machine that inspires most laughs. Check out Fonda’s brilliantly over the top ‘o’ face below (kind of NSFW).
4. She’s been honest about having plastic surgery
Celebrities lie about their physical enhancements. For some, changes to their appearance are down to good lighting, makeup or better nutrition. Renee Zellweger, for example, described her recent image overhaul as a result of “a healthier, happier lifestyle”. That’s some diet.
In contrast, Fonda has been refreshingly candid about the cosmetic procedures she’s undergone to lengthen her career. She’s also admitted to feeling insecure about her looks: “I did have plastic surgery. I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve had it. But I grew up so defined by my looks. I was taught to think that if I wanted to be loved, I had to be thin and pretty. That leads to a lot of trouble.”
*This post was not sponsored by Netflix (although I wish it was because then maybe I’d get it for free).