Monday, September 29, 2014
Performance Review: Jane Fonda in Coming Home
Jane Fonda received her fourth Oscar nomination and won the Oscar for playing Sally Hyde, a wife of a Vietnam war captain who goes to volunteer for a veteran's hospital in Coming Home.
From what sources tell us about the 1978 Best Actress race, Fonda was in a close race with Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata. Ingrid Bergman had won awards at the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle , and the National Society Of Film Critics and Fonda won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress In A Drama. Ingrid had sentiment on her side given she was dying from cancer at the time, but Fonda was at her height as an actress and was starring in a film that was one of the frontrunners for Best Picture and Autumn Sonata wasn't nominated. I think that was what gave Fonda the edge.
Coming Home is a strong film, but its also flawed. There are some rather phony moments in the film that don't ring true and it feels so anti-vietnam that one can call it a preachy, soap box movie. That said, it is still very well directed and well acted, and the script does create a compelling entertaining story that reaches its target by the end. I don't think it fully deserved Original Screenplay, but Jon Voight's fantastic performance was more then deserving of the Oscar. I think its one of those movies that is flawed, but through its flaws, something powerful and even great comes out of it, even if it is a mixed bag.
Jane Fonda is an actress who has highly impressed me in her performances. She is fantastic in Klute and excellent in Julia, They Shoot Horses Don't They?, and Agnes Of God. She excels at playing strong, opinionated, and multi layered women that are also vulnerable and layered. So, for me, its hard to agree with the choice of having her play Sally Hyde, a perfectly ordinary army wife whose experiences change her for the better. I just don't think Fonda's extremely technical style of acting fits with such a simple character who could have used someone more natural and vulnerable. She fails to be convincing for the majority of the first half of the film, even though she is very good technically, using her face and mannerisms to convey Sally's awkwardness at caring for veterans. I just never feel she becomes the character in the beginning and it works against her heavily.
But Fonda greatly improves in the second half as she becomes closer with Voight's character. The growth and changes in her character that come from her volunteer work, from becoming close with Luke are convincing and Fonda is wonderfully natural and expressive in the performance. Her presence is quite strong and her relationship with Voight is beautiful to watch. Both actors are terrific and very believable as lovers and they both achieve a beautiful emotional connection that strengthens the film. But when her husband comes back home, her performance becomes less interesting given how cliched and also unbelievable the conclusion of the film is. She is still very interesting to watch and better then she was in the beginning, but the material sinks her.
So, it's a very good performance that is quite strong on a technical level, but unfortunately the role of Sally Hyde is too cliched and Fonda's acting skills just aren't the right fit for a role like this, which required someone who could create a more spontaneous, more emotional portrayal. She's still very watchable though.