We’ve missed you, Jane Fonda. Though you’ve recently graced forgettable films in thankless roles (Georgia Rule, Monster-in-Law), it’s been too long since we’ve seen you burn a hole through the screen the way you used to. We’d begun praying that promising éminence grise parts around the bend—a network suit in Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom; playing Nancy Reagan (!) in an upcoming Lee Daniels movie—will offer glimpses of the old spitfire heat. Then along comes Bruce Beresford’s family drama, and we’re reminded of exactly what you can do when something engages you.
Playing an elderly hippie living in Woodstock—and thus, a time warp—Fonda’s flaky free spirit is a dervish with gray-foxy flowing locks, a beatific smile and an endless supply of tie-dye. Whether she’s chanting antiwar slogans, prodding her uptight daughter (Catherine Keener) or getting her teenage grandkids stoned, this aged-of-Aquarius matriarch embodies the socially conscious cosmic starchild who never grew up—Hanoi Jane by way of Peter Pan. It’s an incredible performance, albeit a diamond in a pile of dung; Beresford knows how to harness female energy (see Crimes of the Heart), but he’s fumbling and hopeless with everything else here. The hunky male saviors, the misfit kid with a video cam, the cloying acoustic soundtrack, the eventual breakups and makeups and healing of old wounds—this is checklisted-to-death fogy cinema at its worst. Only the mighty Fonda cuts through the claptrap; the rest is just a long, predictable trip.
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