By Nancy McKeon
WHEN DID I FALL IN LOVE with Jane Fonda? Was it years ago when I stumbled upon her, chattering away in French on the long-time French literary talk show “Apostrophes”? Was it when she swooped chicly into the boardroom in HBO’s “The Newsroom” as the powerful owner of the news operation’s TV station? Was it when she acknowledged having work done on her face in “Prime Time,” the aging-bravely book she brought out in 2011? (See page 12.)
Whenever it was, my awe of her (as the woman who did all the things I didn’t have to courage or tenacity to do) is cemented with her new role, as Grace in “Grace and Frankie,” with a delightful Lily Tomlin playing Frankie. The TV series was released a few weeks ago by Netflix, where all episodes of Season 1 have been posted.
There’s a moment in one episode when Fonda sits on her bed in a negligee, holds one arm out and, with a whaddya-gonna-do? look on her face, bats the flesh on her upper arm, sending it into a pendulum swing, demonstrating that you don’t have to be Jewish to have a “Hadassah muscle,” or what some of us call batwings.
“Grace and Frankie” is full of such moments. Some critics have chided the show for not getting beyond the clichés of aging and of older women being left by their husbands (who are leaving the women for each other, in this case) and playing scenes for shallow laughs. But the moments of self-recognition are compensation enough.
Here’s an idea of how the Fonda character plays to women–at least to me. The two husbands and wives have had their disastrous dinner, the women learning that the men are outta there. Now Fonda is home, sitting at her dressing table, staring at herself as she dismantles her public face. First she pulls off one strip of false eyelashes, followed by the other. Then she reaches up to the back of her head with both hands, and I’m cringing, thinking she’s going to remove a wig. But no, it’s just a small hairpiece that fluffs up the crown of her ‘do.
But now she’s traveling up and behind her head again. Her fingers work at something, and soon two strings? elastic bands? are hanging down. A couple of friends thought these were her hearing aids. But no: They’re elastic bands that loop around the head to pull up a sagging jawline.* Fonda sits there, forlorn, surveying what should be the wreckage of beauty, but of course in her case is no wreck at all (how on earth could Martin Sheen, as Robert, her husband and a man with too much money for such lousy, oversize dentures, want to leave her? Although, yes, she is a bit chilly).
I watched the dressing-table sequence a couple of times to be sure, but unhooking the elastic “temporary facelift” has no effect at all on Fonda’s surgically ensured jawline. (And good for her, I say: I had a whole array of chins surgically removed a couple of years ago and have been deliriously happy with the result every since. Honk if you believe in plastic surgery!)
Fonda’s Grace is a well-heeled, up-tight businesswoman who created a beauty empire, with her face and honey-color hair selling boxes of hair dye (or some beauty product). Her daughter is in charge now, but that doesn’t stop Fonda from coming up with ideas, even if they come by way of the hippie-dippy Frankie, not Grace’s favorite person, who has concocted a vaginal lubricant from yams. Uh-huh. Daughter/CEO of the beauty company of course wants nothing to do with it, wants to aim for a younger audience. And that’s the point at which Fonda cites the adult female demographic: Do you know that 84 percent of post-menopausal women find sex painful? And the cri de coeur of our generation: “You are missing out on a HUGE market!”
I’m part of that, and it’s emblematic of the invisibility of the “older woman.” Also, it’s a tonic that the show is aiming above the level of the “Golden Girls” (in interior style and fashion taste and disposable income) to add muscle and bone to what is really an attractive, affluent demographic.
Okay, the show was created by Marta Kauffman, who co-created “Friends,” so maybe there’s not a lot of digging under the skin. But early on, a less-than-sensitive Robert–he’s a divorce lawyer, after all–says he didn’t think Grace would mind the breakup very much, he didn’t think she was that happy in their marriage.
To which a wounded Grace hesitates then responds, in a spirit most of us can identify with, “I was happy enough!”
* There are “face lift tapes” or elastic bands all over the Internet. Not sure what was used in “Grace and Frankie.” And of course, in the case of Jane Fonda, it didn’t have to work.
The bands vary from brand to brand–Secret Lift and Bring It Up are two brands I’ve found–but they basically involve a clear piece of tape you paste to your temples or behind your ears (or both). The elastic band attached to each tape gets pulled up and back, locking together with its mate somewhere where you can hide it under your hair (bangs are recommended to hide the tape, and some fluff at the crown of the head can conceal the elastic). Now if they could just come up with such a thing for the Hadassah muscle.