Let no one accuse the American Film Institute of not giving us sufficient notice on this: it won’t be presented until next summer, but veteran actress/activist/workout instructress Jane Fonda has been named the recipient of the next AFI Life Achievement Award. She’ll accept the honor at a gala tribute evening of June 5, 2014.
There’s a neat anniversary here, too: the selection of Fonda comes 35 years after her father, Oscar-winning leading man Henry Fonda, was presented with the same honor in 1978. She’ll be the 42nd recipient of the annual award, and only the eighth woman; others have been Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Barbara Stanwyck, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. Not a bad club to be in, then.
AFI board chairman explained the selection as follows: “Jane Fonda is American film royalty. A bright light first introduced to the world as the daughter of Henry Fonda, the world watched as she found her own voice and forged her own path as an actor and a cultural icon. Today she stands tall among the giants of American film.”
Some may question whether that last sentence should really be written in the present tense. A two-time Oscar winner and seven-time nominee, Fonda was one of America’s finest screen actresses in her active period from the 1960s to the 1980s, as evident in such films as “Klute” (for which she deservedly won her first Oscar), “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” “Julia,” “Coming Home” (Oscar #2), “The China Syndrome” and “Stanley & Iris,” a touching 1990 romantic drama with Robert De Niro that initially appeared to be her screen swansong.
For after that film, Fonda — who, between her controversial political activism in the 1970s, and her 1980s reinvention as an workout-video queen — retired from cinema for 15 years, and is still an essentially dormant talent.
She returned in 2005 opposite Jennifer Lopez in “Monster-in-Law” (an odd choice of comeback vehicle, but she is rather amusing in it), and has since dipped her toe in occasionally: 2006’s “Georgia Rule” and 2011’s “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding” didn’t exactly make any waves, though considerably more people have now seen her cameo as Nancy Reagan in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” She also received an Emmy nomination this year for her guest role in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom.”
Still, it seems that she hasn’t fully regained her taste for big-screen acting; no reason why she should, of course, though it’d be nice if an adventurous filmmaker could lure the 75-year-old into more challenging territory with a role that’s really worthy of her now-seasoned talent. Perhaps the AFI honor will encourage her to keep her hand in.