Susanne Lacy’s documentary Jane Fonda in Five Acts offers an intimate and emotional portrait of the multi-faceted actress turned activist in the eponymous five acts, each named after the person who held the most influence over her at the time: her father Henry Fonda, husbands Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden and Ted Turner, and finally Jane herself.
The theme present in these chapters of Fonda’s life is her search for her own identity. Growing up in the shadow of her famous father, she sought guidance from her husbands, leaving it up to them to mould her personality. What she ultimately realized is that authenticity has to come from within. Now, in the final act of her life, she has achieved just that.
Rarely has there been a life more in the public eye than Fonda’s. She grew up with cameras trained on her even before she became an actress, providing Lacy with plenty of visual material in addition to film clips and interviews with long-time co-stars, friends and family members, and of course Jane Fonda herself, who offers frank insights to her life and emotional state.
Like her memoir, the documentary is an apologia for the life she has led, exploring private traumas such as her mother’s suicide, as well as public outcries, in particular the acts of her anti-war activism which branded ‘Hannoi Jane’ as a traitor to much of the American public.
It seems as if Fonda has lived many lives. The 133 minutes of screentime are a testament to that but also one of the documentary’s main weaknesses, struggling to pack the complex subject matter into a feature film.
Yet Lacy succeeds in showing the person behind the star, and the doc is certainly a worthwhile watch for Fonda fans and those whose interest has been piqued by her recent renaissance.
CAST: Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Robert Redford, Lily Tomlin, Ted Turner
DIRECTOR: Susan Lacy
SYNOPSIS: A look at the life, work, activism and controversies of actress and fitness tycoon, Jane Fonda.