Tag Archives: Jane Fonda

Better Living Through Chemistry (2014, Geoff Moore and David Posamentier)

Given its ninety minute length and having Jane Fonda perform the comically explicit narration, it might be easy to dismiss–or just describe–Better Living Through Chemistry as a genial amusement. Certainly lead Sam Rockwell can do this role in his sleep. He's a small town pharmacist in a bad marriage (Michelle Monaghan is great as the controlling wife); his father-in-law runs his life, his teenage son is starting the awkward years, no one takes him seriously.

Except unhappily married trophy wife Olivia Wilde.

What actually makes Chemistry so different is how writers-directors Moore and Posamentier seem to have no idea what they're doing. There are all sorts of tangents the film goes on, all sorts of great little moments between Rockwell and Monaghan then later Rockwell and Harrison Holzer (as his son). It's all over the place, with the affair between Rockwell and Wilde ostensibly the foundation of the narrative.

Only it's not. It's a device to go into a series of rapid comic set pieces–as Rockwell tumbles out of control, only everything turns out to be regimented. All of these set pieces go well, thanks to Rockwell and his abilities in both physical comedy and just lovably obnoxious. There's no heavy lifting for the actors in Chemistry, except maybe Holzer, but strong, assured performances in a well-written, if unambitious picture, isn't a bad thing at all.

Nice supporting work from Norbert Leo Butz and Ken Howard rounds things off.

Chemistry is controlled and it's calculated and it pays off well.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Jonathan Alberts; music by John Nau and Andrew Feltenstein; production designer, Heidi Adams; produced by Joe Neurauter and Felipe Marino; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Doug Varney), Olivia Wilde (Elizabeth Roberts), Michelle Monaghan (Kara Varney), Norbert Leo Butz (Agent Andrew Carp), Ben Schwartz (Noah), Ken Howard (Walter Bishop), Jenn Harris (Janet), Peter Jacobson (Dr. Roth), Harrison Holzer (Ethan Varney), Ray Liotta (Jack Roberts) and Jane Fonda (Jane Fonda).


RELATED

Advertisements

Nine to Five (1980, Colin Higgins)

Besides being extremely funny and rather well-acted, Nine to Five has a lot of narrative problems. The story isn’t a mess exactly, because there’s not enough story for there to be a mess. Higgins and co-writer Patricia Resnick have an idea (Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin are suffering secretaries) and not much else.

Fonda’s technically the star as her subplot has some drama and gets resolution with the son of a bitch ex-husband. Parton and Tomlin have lives outside the film’s main plot, but they aren’t part of the film. Parton gets two scenes, Tomlin only one. Higgins and Resnick get a lot of mileage out of those scenes–both for Chekhov’s gun or just texture for the characters.

Parton’s surprisingly appealing, Fonda’s good and Tomlin’s just great. But none of them are anywhere near as good as Dabney Coleman as their heinous boss. He manages to be equal parts familiar, odious and hilarious. Sadly, although the film’s thirty years old, workplace gender equalities haven’t really improved by leaps and bounds.

The narrative problems throw the film’s pacing off quite a bit. Getting through Fonda’s first day at the office takes twenty minutes, which sets the pace for a while, but the second half is summarized (if not abbreviated).

Under Higgins’s assured direction, Nine to Five shows a sitcom concept can work as a movie. More, it can be funny, insightful and rather well-acted.

About the only thing off is Charles Fox’s goofy score.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Colin Higgins; screenplay by Higgins and Patricia Resnick, based on a story by Resnick; director of photography, Reynaldo Villalobos; edited by Pembroke J. Herring; music by Charles Fox; production designer, Dean Edward Mitzner; produced by Bruce Gilbert; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jane Fonda (Judy Bernly), Lily Tomlin (Violet Newstead), Dolly Parton (Doralee Rhodes), Dabney Coleman (Franklin M. Hart Jr.), Sterling Hayden (Russell Tinsworthy), Elizabeth Wilson (Roz Keith), Henry Jones (Mr. Hinkle), Lawrence Pressman (Dick Bernly) and Marian Mercer (Missy Hart).


RELATED

Barbarella (1968, Roger Vadim)

In terms of badness, Barbarella is phenomenal. One could spend his or her time on the gender politics–someone must have in the last forty years. The film takes place in a post-gender future, where Jane Fonda’s titular character is the most relied upon person in the galaxy. However, the president (Claude Dauphin) spends the entire time he’s giving her a mission ogling her.

A few costume changes later–director Vadim’s approach to the film is to undress Fonda, put her in something scanty, tear off those scanty closes, get her undressed and then repeat–there’s some exposition explaining future sexuality. Fonda, and the boring people of Earth, are also post-sex. Luckily, Fonda comes across a real man, Ugo Tognazzi, who shows her the way.

Those sociological aspects aside, Barbarella‘s a complete bore. While the sets are enormous, they’re ineptly realized. Claude Renoir’s photography contracts them even more. Vadim’s direction is atrocious–he has dead space at the sides of his Panavision frame, can’t direct the sci-fi aspects, can’t direct the conversations, can’t even figure out head room. Barbarella would be funnier in its badness if the writing weren’t so terrible.

As the lead, Fonda’s bad, but she’s nothing compared to the rest. Tognazzi’s laughable, but John Phillip Law and Anita Pallenberg are much worse. Milo O’Shea is rather funny, presumably intentionally. One just feels bad for David Hemmings though, especially in those tights.

Barbarella‘s only surprise is its last line, a sublime (albeit obvious), profound observation.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Vadim; screenplay by Terry Southern and Vadim, based on the comic book by Jean-Claude Forest; director of photography, Claude Renoir; edited by Victoria Mercanton; music by Bob Crewe and Charles Fox; production designer, Mario Garbuglia; produced by Dino De Laurentiis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jane Fonda (Barbarella), John Phillip Law (Pygar), Anita Pallenberg (The Great Tyrant), Milo O’Shea (Concierge), Marcel Marceau (Professor Ping), Claude Dauphin (President of Earth), Véronique Vendell (Captain Moon), Serge Marquand (Captain Sun), Catherine Chevallier (Stomoxys), Marie Therese Chevallier (Glossina), David Hemmings (Dildano) and Ugo Tognazzi (Mark Hand).


RELATED

The Morning After (1986, Sidney Lumet)

The Morning After is an awkward combination of thriller and adult drama. As a thriller, with Paul Chihara’s enthusiastic and bombastic score, it’s frequently annoying. Jane Fonda can scrub a crime scene of every thread of evidence, but the simple things–like dropping a succeeding lie or leaving all her personal belongings for the police to find–escape her. Lumet’s direction, which makes full use of the frame in a somewhat unique three dimensional manner (Fonda hides on the right, out of sight from the pursuer on the left or hiding behind truck on the lower right, unseen by the pursuers above her), is competent while unsuccessful. It can’t surmount the script’s absurdities or that awful music.

There’s also the matter of the frequent extreme long shots, featuring Fonda walking from one side of the frame to the other, usually in front of a building. Those I can’t even begin to understand.

The adult drama angle of the film, alcoholic failed starlet Fonda finds the hint of a human connection with friendly bigot (he’s friendly in his bigotry) Jeff Bridges, works considerably better. Lumet’s direction of those scenes, when they aren’t doubling for suspense, is quite good and rather effective. I spent a lot of The Morning After marveling at Fonda’s ability to overcome the material. She and Bridges have a decent chemistry, but her drunk scenes are bleak and wonderful. One of the few things the script gets right is its detail to her (drinking-related) behaviors and the logic she operates under.

The script’s major conceptual problem (besides the wrong-headed–it’s got that L.A. corruption angle too–cobbling of two incompatible ideas) has to do with the script’s ambitions. The Morning After is practically a concept film–the opening titles only credit three actors, Fonda, Bridges and Raul Julia, and they aren’t kidding. It’s practically a stage play. It might even work better as a stage play, as the constraints would make it more interesting. But as a thriller, the constraints just make it weird. While the cops are after Fonda and she’s worried she’s a killer or there’s a killer after her, she takes the time to put on make-up and flirt with Bridges. The movie wastes about eleven minutes on this scene, which is only there for developing that adult drama aspect.

Another big problem is understanding what Fonda’s doing. The viewer can’t understand what she’s thinking because he or she is supposed to be considering the possibility Fonda killed someone, but it frequently gets to the point where her actions are baffling. Fonda’s character is a clumsy drunk; it’s always clear when she’s been drinking. So her relatively sober actions tend to make less sense than her drunk ones. A strange dichotomy.

But it’s worth watching for Fonda’s performance, even if Bridges is just along for the ride and Julia can’t make his poorly written character work. Fonda gets through all the absurdity, making it all palatable, and comes out great at the–similarly goofy–ending.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; written by James Cresson; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Joel Goodman; music by Paul Chihara; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Bruce Gilbert; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jane Fonda (Alex Sternbergen), Jeff Bridges (Turner Kendall), Raul Julia (Joaquin Manero), Diane Salinger (Isabel Harding), Richard Foronjy (Sergeant Greenbaum), Geoffrey Scott (Bobby Korshack), James ‘Gypsy’ Haake (Frankie), Kathleen Wilhoite (Red) and Don Hood (Hurley).


RELATED