Monday, January 11, 2010
The older I get, the more I like the young Jane Fonda -- you know, the plucky girl of Barefoot in the Park and Sunday in New York. The girl from Jersey who has almost by mistake fallen into the exciting life of New York City. She’s naive and curious. She’s looking for thrills, but she doesn’t know what those thrills are. And she wants everyone to join in with her discovery of life. She has so many questions...questions, questions, questions. She’s never been drunk, never been high, never been a newlywed. I get the feeling she’s never really experienced any sort of deep sadness, this just over 21 girl, and normally this would raise my disdain factor, but with Jane, it only serves to make you admire her, you want to say “hip hip hooray, she’s absolutely a fool for life!”
Maybe she’s so damn good at playing these joyous innocent That Girl characters, because in her own too real life, she experienced the grief of living with a depressed mother, who eventually killed herself. That dark side gave young Jane the ability to take the light and work with it.
Her perpetually surprised take on life is intoxicating to me and its initially that way for Robert Redford in Barefoot in the Park...but then he becomes the sullen life-is-a-load husband. He becomes more suited for his mother-in-law than for his young too-excited wife. Jane dances exuberantly and drunk with Charles Boyer and don’t I want to be her when she’s in this blissful state? You bet I do! Redford becomes more and more exasperated as Jane’s life seems to be opening up in front of her like a Christmas package...he catches cold, he becomes so drunk he can’t feel his teeth, his cynical old-man nature rises to the top as he discovers this wild thing he’s now betrothed to. What a wonderful surprise to find out the girl you married ISN’T your mother! But Redford seems to have wanted his mother and instead he got Jane. Impetuous Jane.
But something happened to Jane, perhaps Barbarella was a turning point for her. The funny thing is that Barbarella is that same innocent girl from the suburbs looking for unknown thrills. She maintains that child-like wonder, that need to ask questions like the Little Prince, who never stopped asking a question until it was answered. She purports to be a scientist who specializes in Love, but isn’t she just That Girl again in a fur lined space ship?
The Jane that lands back on earth after her exploits in Love and Sex in Barbarella is one that I don’t care for as much. Sure, she teased us with her brilliant dark portrayal of a high dollar call girl in Klute, only to then disappoint me as time wore on. The new Jane went for sensible knee high boots and journalism school. She traded in That Girl for Brenda Starr -- her sense of wonder was given over to a sense of political concern and her brow seemed to knot up with the weight of the world. It happens to all of us as we grow older and more responsible, I suppose, but I'm becoming a firm believer that we have to maintain the Shamma Shamma, just a bit of it, to fend off Mr. Time, to stay clear of the nursing home doors...