Monday, September 09, 2013


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Comments

“Something over 16 years ago (TNR, November 24, 1962) I wrote a review of three films in which a relative newcomer named Jane Fonda appeared. I deplored the fact that her extraordinary talent was not being adequately celebrated, and I dared to think that she might grow into a first-rate artist…. Hoots abounded. Fonda proceeded.

“During the intervening years …. much of her acting was, by the standards that her possibilities impose, minimally good….

“Lately, however, Fonda has been deepening and freshening again. It would be fanciful to connect this with her lessening radical activism. (Her political and social concerns, I emphasize, seem undiminished.) I simply note the seeming coincidence. Admittedly, her work in Julia and Coming Home seemed crimped by the writing of the roles…, but in three very different pictures in the last two years, her roles were well-enough written and she showed us superior acting. In the pastry puff Fun With Dick and Jane, she bubbled. If there's such a thing as a non-dance performance that dances off the ground with sheer spirit--and there is--she did it here. In two current films she gives performances excellent in themselves and all the more impressive because they can be seen in tandem. Their differences make each one seem stronger.

“Both, unfortunately, are in questionable pictures, but if you're interested in acting, they are very much worth seeing for Fonda. In Comes a Horseman….

“And Fonda is in California Suite…. The moment she appears, her physical silhouette--I don't mean her dress, of course--is so different from Comes a Horseman that there's a small shock of fright, as if the transformation by art had something supernatural about it. Her pattern of movement, her vocal attack, her timing are so integral to what she is doing that before she was on the screen 30 seconds, all I was conscious of was knots--knots in this woman's psyche, emotional responses, ability to respond openly to an open approach--and her regret about this that she could never voice. Again what we are given is simply the current phenomenological evidence of a woman who existed before the film and will continue after it.

“I haven't seen such an accidental juxtaposition of two differentiated fine performances by an American film actor since 1972, in Paul Newman's films Sometimes a Great Notion and Pocket Money. As with Newman, in Fonda's two roles there are no limps, no wigs, no broad accents, no stock-company trickery. Just (just!) creative imagination and the talent to embody it. For a number of years in the 1960s, I conducted a series about film on the PBS station in New York, and sometimes I would do a program on acting, with clips from two or three performances by the same actor. I don't often miss doing that program nowadays, but I wish I could do one with these Fonda films. Besides the pleasure it would give, it might possibly also do a little--o wan hope--to offset the rubbish that gets published about film acting, about these two performances especially.

“I can't quite contend that Fonda has become the first-rate artist I thought and still think is in her. For one point, she has been lax in her choice of scripts. For another, she has missed playing some of the great roles that only the theater could give her…. [S]he ought to let one medium feed the other in her work. Still she is the preeminent actress on the American screen. We have other good ones--for examples, Ellen Burstyn and the lately arrived Meryl Streep. Fonda, further on (she has already finished two more films), could move still further, could surprise us unsurprisingly. That is, she could move to unforeseen new strengths that nevertheless grow out of what we know about her.

“Futile Question No. ????. With actresses like these on hand, how can Diane Keaton still be taken seriously? How can her parlor-act broken-arc comedy and facile hysterics not be perceived for what they are?”

-- Stanley Kauffmann, New Republic, February ?, 1979

“…. Fonda's Hannah Warren is a tough, testy, snobbish Newsweek editor from New York, while her ex-husband Bill is a model of laid-back California casualness. As a transplanted New Yorker himself, Simon can identify with both antagonists, and he gives each of them a strong voice. Although Hannah isn't easy to like, she comes alive as one of the most vivid characters Simon has ever created. Of course he's lucky to have Jane Fonda interpreting his lines. This amazing actress gives her third superb performance of 1978. She conveys the restless intelligence and the offputting arrogance of a New York journalist, and she also illuminates the fears that underlie Hannah's brittle, bitchy facade. This episode is uncharacteristic of Simon; it’s scintillating, poignant and thoroughly compelling...."

-- Stephen Farber, New West, January ?, 1979

“…. There are many flaws in California Suite…. But as I sat in the screening room laughing my head off, I began asking myself why I should resist the exquisitely timed readings of Jane Fonda, Michael Caine, and Maggie Smith, and the appealingly off-beat effects of Alan Alda, Walter Matthau, and Elaine May….”

-- Andrew Sarris, Village Voice, January 1?, 1979

California Suite is such an acute embarrassment because Herbert Ross directs as if he thought there were depth in the lines, when what he has got Jane Fonda, Maggie Smith, and Michael Caine bringing out is the sentimentality in them. When Laurence Olivier does his virtuoso turns in pictures such as The Betsy and The Boys from Brazil, we can see that he isn't deceived about the quality of the material but that he's enjoying himself acting anyway. Jane Fonda and Maggie Smith are anxious and straining, as if they thought there were something more in the material, which was eluding them. They do extraordinarily well by it, but they're not fun to watch, as Olivier is. You may find yourself flinching at the toads that leap out of their mouths.

“Jane Fonda plays Hannah, one of those career-centered, woman-of-distinction roles left over from the forties: a veneered cold bitch, a boss lady…. [Alda] gives such a flabby, insecure performance that Bill doesn't seem to be a full person, and Hannah's attacks on him appear gratuitously spiteful … It isn't just that Hannah is more than Bill's match--Fonda is more than Alda's match. She's whirring around and hitting emotional peaks in a vacuum; it might be better if she just ran the gamut of emotions from A to B rather than race from A to Z. Jane Fonda is so tensely eager to act that she puts out too much. Her comic edginess, her emotional precision, the heat rising in her cheeks, even that slender, wiry body primed for movement are too electric for her to be taking cheap shots at L.A. (while her heart is breaking). The only time I heard myself laugh was at a line that probably isn't meant to be funny: when she says of her current lover (who hasn't long to live) that 'he has the second-best mind I've ever met since Adlai Stevenson'…"


-- Pauline Kael, The New Yorker, January 8, 1979
         When the Lights Go Down, 529-30


“Nothing else in "California Suite" matches their [Maggie Smith's and Michael Caine's] magic, but Alan Alda and Jane Fonda, and Walter Matthau and Elaine May are formidable acting teams under any circumstances. In the most serious of the plotlets, Alda and Fonda are an estranged couple fighting over the custody of their 17-year-old daughter. He's a laid-back Hollywood screenwriter and she's a tough-as-nails Newsweek editor from New York, and their confrontation takes the form of East Coast vs. West Coast put-downs. Though Fonda and Alda are fascinating to watch and Simon frequently draws satiric blood, this particular game of cultural Ping Pong is beginning to seem a little provincial and passé.”

-- David Ansen, Newsweek, January 8, 1979

“There's more aggression than affection in Simon's comic writing; his people are forced to disgrace or humble themselves. On their way down they bicker incessantly.... Incapable of ordinary conversation, they rouse each other to frenzies of mutual hazing....

“… Jane Fonda plays a supposedly sophisticated Newsweek editor… As soon as she faces Alda, it starts--bitch, quip, and thrust … yet I don't believe for a minute that this intelligent woman who fears losing her daughter would joke this way (she might if she were losing a story assignment or even a man, but losing a daughter?). Maybe Fonda doesn't believe it either, because for the first time in her career she's tense and mannered and downright bad. The emotions come out as rigid and overdefined, jammed into place by sheer willpower. Fumbling constantly with her cigarettes, she whips around the room like Bette Davis at her most flagrantly melodramatic, cocks her arm as stiffly as a Kabuki dancer, draws in her gut, and pulls her chest up until the neck muscles nearly snap. It's the same kind of tough-vulnerable overwrought great-lady performance that Herbert Ross, who directed, bullied out of Anne Bancroft in The Turning Point. The role is doubly embarrassing because Simon has little idea of what a New York editor sounds like, and Fonda is stuck with a number of howlers, such as the boast that her current lover "has the second-best mind I've ever met since Adlai Stevenson." (Who would be the best mind she's met since Stevenson--George McGovern? David Susskind?)”

-- David Denby, New York, January 29, 1979

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Stanley Kauffmann

“Something over 16 years ago (TNR, November 24, 1962) I wrote a review of three films in which a relative newcomer named Jane Fonda appeared. I deplored the fact that her extraordinary talent was not being adequately celebrated, and I dared to think that she might grow into a first-rate artist…. Hoots abounded. Fonda proceeded.

“During the intervening years …. much of her acting was, by the standards that her possibilities impose, minimally good….

“Lately, however, Fonda has been deepening and freshening again. It would be fanciful to connect this with her lessening radical activism. (Her political and social concerns, I emphasize, seem undiminished.) I simply note the seeming coincidence. Admittedly, her work in Julia and Coming Home seemed crimped by the writing of the roles…, but in three very different pictures in the last two years, her roles were well-enough written and she showed us superior acting. In the pastry puff Fun With Dick and Jane, she bubbled. If there's such a thing as a non-dance performance that dances off the ground with sheer spirit--and there is--she did it here. In two current films she gives performances excellent in themselves and all the more impressive because they can be seen in tandem. Their differences make each one seem stronger.

“Both, unfortunately, are in questionable pictures, but if you're interested in acting, they are very much worth seeing for Fonda. In Comes a Horseman….

“And Fonda is in California Suite…. The moment she appears, her physical silhouette--I don't mean her dress, of course--is so different from Comes a Horseman that there's a small shock of fright, as if the transformation by art had something supernatural about it. Her pattern of movement, her vocal attack, her timing are so integral to what she is doing that before she was on the screen 30 seconds, all I was conscious of was knots--knots in this woman's psyche, emotional responses, ability to respond openly to an open approach--and her regret about this that she could never voice. Again what we are given is simply the current phenomenological evidence of a woman who existed before the film and will continue after it.

“I haven't seen such an accidental juxtaposition of two differentiated fine performances by an American film actor since 1972, in Paul Newman's films Sometimes a Great Notion and Pocket Money. As with Newman, in Fonda's two roles there are no limps, no wigs, no broad accents, no stock-company trickery. Just (just!) creative imagination and the talent to embody it. For a number of years in the 1960s, I conducted a series about film on the PBS station in New York, and sometimes I would do a program on acting, with clips from two or three performances by the same actor. I don't often miss doing that program nowadays, but I wish I could do one with these Fonda films. Besides the pleasure it would give, it might possibly also do a little--o wan hope--to offset the rubbish that gets published about film acting, about these two performances especially.

“I can't quite contend that Fonda has become the first-rate artist I thought and still think is in her. For one point, she has been lax in her choice of scripts. For another, she has missed playing some of the great roles that only the theater could give her…. [S]he ought to let one medium feed the other in her work. Still she is the preeminent actress on the American screen. We have other good ones--for examples, Ellen Burstyn and the lately arrived Meryl Streep. Fonda, further on (she has already finished two more films), could move still further, could surprise us unsurprisingly. That is, she could move to unforeseen new strengths that nevertheless grow out of what we know about her.

“Futile Question No. ????. With actresses like these on hand, how can Diane Keaton still be taken seriously? How can her parlor-act broken-arc comedy and facile hysterics not be perceived for what they are?”

Stanley Kauffmann
New Republic, date ?

Stephen Farber

“…. Fonda's Hannah Warren is a tough, testy, snobbish Newsweek editor from New York, while her ex-husband Bill is a model of laid-back California casualness. As a transplanted New Yorker himself, Simon can identify with both antagonists, and he gives each of them a strong voice. Although Hannah isn't easy to like, she comes alive as one of the most vivid characters Simon has ever created. Of course he's lucky to have Jane Fonda interpreting his lines. This amazing actress gives her third superb performance of 1978. She conveys the restless intelligence and the offputting arrogance of a New York journalist, and she also illuminates the fears that underlie Hannah's brittle, bitchy facade. This episode is uncharacteristic of Simon; it’s scintillating, poignant and thoroughly compelling.

“The episode with Maggie Smith and Michael Caine is quite different but equally good--high comedy writing honed to a savage edge….”

“However, the most egregious scene comes at the very end. Each of the four stories has a little epilogue; the worst is the reconciliation of Fonda and her teen-age daughter at the airport. Earlier in the film, the Fonda story had ended on a bittersweet, ambiguous, but very effective note. The airport reconciliation seems tacked…. Although California Suite has wonderful moments and performances, it is marred by Simon's cowardice. Can't he, just once, trust his talent and risk telling the truth?”

Stephen Farber
New West, date ?


Andrew Sarris

“…. There are many flaws in California Suite…. But as I sat in the screening room laughing my head off, I began asking myself why I should resist the exquisitely timed readings of Jane Fonda, Michael Caine, and Maggie Smith, and the appealingly off-beat effects of Alan Alda, Walter Matthau, and Elaine May….”

Andrew Sarris
Village Voice, January 1 ?, 1979

Pauline Kael

“These Wasp plays represent the serious side of Neil Simon, which turns out to be surprisingly close to Noël Coward—not good Coward but mawkishly bittersweet Coward, in which gallant people use bitchy wisecracks to conceal their breaking hearts…. The entire point of the bickering between Jane Fonda, the intellectual snob, and Alan Alda, as her screenwriter ex-husband, who accuses her of never having had "an honest emotion," is how vulnerable she is…. [E]ach playlet reaches its climax when the mask of sophistication is dropped and we see the suffering face. The plays are stripteases: brittle, glittering "successful" people are brought down to ordinary humanity.

“California Suite is such an acute embarrassment because Herbert Ross directs as if he thought there were depth in the lines, when what he has got Jane Fonda, Maggie Smith, and Michael Caine bringing out is the sentimentality in them. When Laurence Olivier does his virtuoso turns in pictures such as The Betsy and The Boys from Brazil, we can see that he isn't deceived about the quality of the material but that he's enjoying himself acting anyway. Jane Fonda and Maggie Smith are anxious and straining, as if they thought there were something more in the material, which was eluding them. They do extraordinarily well by it, but they're not fun to watch, as Olivier is. You may find yourself flinching at the toads that leap out of their mouths. [Compare to Come Back to 5 & Dime and Crimes of the Heart.]

“Jane Fonda plays Hannah, one of those career-centered, woman-of-distinction roles left over from the forties: a veneered cold bitch, a boss lady…. [Alda] gives such a flabby, insecure performance that Bill doesn't seem to be a full person, and Hannah's attacks on him appear gratuitously spiteful … It isn't just that Hannah is more than Bill's match--Fonda is more than Alda's match. She's whirring around and hitting emotional peaks in a vacuum; it might be better if she just ran the gamut of emotions from A to B rather than race from A to Z. Jane Fonda is so tensely eager to act that she puts out too much. Her comic edginess, her emotional precision, the heat rising in her cheeks, even that slender, wiry body primed for movement are too electric for her to be taking cheap shots at L.A. (while her heart is breaking). The only time I heard myself laugh was at a line that probably isn't meant to be funny: when she says of her current lover (who hasn't long to live) that "he has the second-best mind I've ever met since Adlai Stevenson."…. [left out good line by Kael, "I may go out of my intelligent mind", because of exposition to get there.]”

“Maggie Smith and Michael Caine have a more evenly balanced sparring match. Maggie Smith plays as if her situations and lines were witty, and she makes them so by the distancing device of eccentricity. She goes beyond cleverness: it’s a succinct performance—each gesture is an epigram. Yet there’s a cost: when an actor triumphs in great material you can often feel the joy she takes in the material that is bearing her aloft; here, with Maggie Smith triumphing over her material, you can see the tiny frown lines, the doubt….”

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, January 8, 1979
When the Lights Go Down, 529-30

David Ansen

“There are those who can't resist Neil Simon and those--like this reviewer--who can. But in CALIFORNIA SUITE … I could feel my defenses crumbling….

“Perhaps--no, definitely--it was Maggie Smith and Michael Caine….”

“Nothing else in "California Suite" matches their magic, but Alan Alda and Jane Fonda, and Walter Matthau and Elaine May are formidable acting teams under any circumstances. In the most serious of the plotlets, Alda and Fonda are an estranged couple fighting over the custody of their 17-year-old daughter. He's a laid-back Hollywood screenwriter and she's a tough-as-nails NEWSWEEK editor from New York, and their confrontation takes the form of East Coast vs. West Coast put-downs. Though Fonda and Alda are fascinating to watch and Simon frequently draws satiric blood, this particular game of cultural Ping Pong is beginning to seem a little provincial and passé.”

David Ansen
Newsweek, January 8, 1979

David Denby

“There's more aggression than affection in Simon's comic writing; his people are forced to disgrace or humble themselves. On their way down they bicker incessantly. Simon has created a new type of couple: Incapable of ordinary conversation, they rouse each other to frenzies of mutual hazing. In American romantic comedy, swapping wisecracks is traditionally the road to love…, but SImon has retained the Ping-Pong style of repartee for situations that are anything but romantic…

“… Jane Fonda plays a supposedly sophisticated Newsweek editor… As soon as she faces Alda, it starts--bitch, quip, and thrust … yet I don't believe for a minute that this intelligent woman who fears losing her daughter would joke this way (she might if she were losing a story assignment or even a man, but losing a daughter?). Maybe Fonda doesn't believe it either, because for the first time in her career she's tense and mannered and downright bad. The emotions come out as rigid and overdefined, jammed into place by sheer willpower. Fumbling constantly with her cigarettes, she whips around the room like Bette Davis at her most flagrantly melodramatic, cocks her arm as stiffly as a Kabuki dancer, draws in her gut, and pulls her chest up until the neck muscles nearly snap. It's the same kind of tough-vulnerable overwrought great-lady performance that Herbert Ross, who directed, bullied out of Anne Bancroft in The Turning Point. The role is doubly embarrassing because Simon has little idea of what a New York editor sounds like, and Fonda is stuck with a number of howlers, such as the boast that her current lover "has the second-best mind I've ever met since Adlai Stevenson." (Who would be the best mind she's met since Stevenson--George McGovern? David Susskind?)”

David Denby
New York, January 29, 1979