Monday, November 2, 2015

1978: Jane Fonda for Coming Home

In her second Oscar winning performance, Fonda plays the wife of a marine. When her husband goes to fight in Vietnam, she volunteers at a veteran hospital and becomes involved with a paraplegic.

This was one of the first movies about the Vietnam War, another being The Deer Hunter, which beat Coming Home for Best Picture of 1978. It's interesting that Jane Fonda won an Oscar for this movie, since she was very vocally against the war. Her actions during the war, including some that turned out to be mere rumors, led many people to see her as anti-American. I wonder if that had something to do with why she made this anti-war, pro-veteran movie. Maybe this was her way of communicating that the reason she was against the war was because she thought it was a pointless waste of lives, and not because she was a Communist democracy-hater as she had been portrayed. Or maybe she really was a Communist democracy-hater and it took tremendous acting skills to convince audiences that she wasn't. I don't know, and honestly I don't really care. I know a lot of people still hate Jane Fonda, while other people strongly defend her, because of what she did and said back then. Maybe it's just because I wasn't alive, but I find it hard to get worked up about her politics 40 years ago. So let's talk about her performance.

Even ignoring the political aspect, I'm still not sure how I feel about Fonda's win. She's good, but not outstanding. Her character kind of fades from importance halfway through; the movie's more about the Vietnam vets than about her. She's mostly overshadowed by Jon Voight, who plays her paraplegic lover to perfection. I think his Oscar was more well-deserved than hers. I did like seeing her interact with the other veterans at the hospital and showing them compassion, but there aren't very many scenes like that. When we see her at the hospital, she's mostly interacting with Jon Voight's character, and once he checks out we don't really get to see her there anymore. I thought she did a better job at the hospital than in her love scenes with Voight, which were rather awkward and uncomfortable. On the other hand, I think that was kind of the point, because I'm not sure that they were actually supposed to be in love; they were both just really lonely and sad. That's what came across anyway. Overall it's a fine performance, but it could have been much better if her character had been given more to do. I think her other Oscar-winning performance, in Klute, does a much better job of demonstrating her incredible acting talents than this movie does.

This was Fonda's fourth Best Actress nomination, and her final win (at least so far). She was nominated again the following year for The China Syndrome, then two years after that for Best Supporting Actress in On Golden Pond (for which Katharine Hepburn won her fourth Best Actress Oscar, so I'll be watching that soon), and once more for Best Actress in 1986's The Morning After. She's still acting, most recently starring in the Netflix series "Grace and Frankie" (Season 1 streaming now, Season 2 streaming...soon? Please?), while also working on movies, so maybe she'll get another nomination someday.

Coming up next: Sally Field

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