Friday, May 13, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Eagerly Awaiting

Love Song — Madonna will be paying tribute to Prince at the Billboard Music Awards on May 22nd.
by Liz Smith

"Grace and Frankie" Soars in Season Two ... Eagerly Awaiting Woody's "Cafe Society" ... Anxiously Awaiting Madonna's Tribute to Prince.

“NO, NO, don’t do that. Pull out one, and the whole strip comes off.  Then my entire face begins to unravel!”

That was Jane Fonda to Lily Tomlin in a second season episode of the Netflix series, “Grace and Frankie.” (Tomlin wanted to pull out one of Fonda’s eyelashes to make a wish.)

I’ve binge-watched half of the new season, and as much as I came to enjoy “G and F” last year, everything has gelled now that all aboard are sophomores.
Jane Fonda to Lily Tomlin as Grace and Frankie.
Tomlin and Fonda, as women left by their husbands — men who were secretly gay, carrying on an affair for twenty years — and Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen as those men, now fully inhabit their roles.

The scenario doesn’t seem as sitcom-like as it did at first, the writing has improved, and so has the chemistry between the four stars. It’s likely nothing more than relaxing — the first season of any show looks drastically different down the line — sometimes the first several years are unrecognizable in retrospect. 
Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen fully inhabit their roles.
“Grace and Frankie” seems to have hit its stride in year two.  It is deeply encouraging, moving, even, to watch a show in which none of the major protagonists is a day under 70, working a plotline that could make them appear ridiculous, but in fact does the exact opposite. There is such good humor and wisdom; it’s raucous and gentle, sentimental and stinging, obvious but not eye-rollingly so. (I won’t spoil anything, but there is a wedding episode that touches every base, with all four stars absolutely superb.)  It is empowering on many levels.

Great help comes from the supporting cast: Brooklyn Decker, Ethan Embry, June Diane Raphael, and Baron Vaughn. They have all improved as well! (This year we also get nice cameo turns by the likes of Rita Moreno, Swoosie Kurtz, Marsha Mason, etc.)
June Diane Raphael and Baron Vaughn.
Ethan Embry with Brooklyn Decker.
Without negating the eternal genius of Lily Tomlin, I have to give the deepest bow to Jane Fonda, who has never appeared on episodic weekly TV previously (Well, there was HBO’s “The Newsroom” but she was not on every episode or the focus of the show.)

Fonda is on fire, there’s no other way to describe her portrayal as Grace, the slowly unwinding, uptight, martini-loving, well-to-do woman knocked sideways by her husband’s betrayal, now learning to really like indeed, love, the pot-smoking, hippie-dippy Frankie, whom she has basically merely tolerated for years.  Every caustic barb, each exasperated sigh, the sudden bursts of deep emotion when reality hits — she is superb. 
I was impressed with the way “Grace and Frankie” pulled itself together by the end of its first season.  But I never expected the show to evolve as much as it has.

Thank you, Netflix! I add my boundless admiration and appreciation to Lily, Jane, Sam and Martin. Great actors and great role models, on and off-screen.
I CAN’T wait to see Woody Allen’s “Café Society” movie.  I am always impatient for a new Woody film.  I think he’s a genius.  As for his personal life, all I know is what I read. And as an adult of some years, I’ve come to know that you can’t always believe what you read, from either side. As Tennessee Williams once wrote: “Truth is at the bottom of a bottomless well.”
I guess some Farrow, someplace, will now cite me, along with everybody who dares to work with Woody, as a supporter of deviant behavior. Whatever.  I say that protesting his work is pointless, leave Woody to heaven. (Foes might scream, “or to Hell” but as Woody is Jewish, he doesn’t believe in Hell.)

At a certain juncture, the more you pile up on somebody, the more sympathetic a figure they become. People who loved Woody’s movies are going to go see them.  Those who believe his side, will.  Others won’t. We don’t know, because we weren’t there.  

Vengeance is exhausting and unhealthy.
Woody directing Café Society starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart.
MADONNA FANS are on pins and needles ever since the announcement that the pop queen will appear at the Billboard Music Awards on May 22nd, and pay tribute to Prince.  How exactly will The Big M “pay tribute?”  A lovely speech, or a live performance of one of Prince’s classics? Or both? As all Madonna fans know, she is notoriously nervous performing in front of her peers. As relaxed and exuberant as she is in front of thousands, she is often a study in self-consciousness otherwise.  Sometimes this has worked to her advantage, but most of M’s admirers would prefer she keep away from such events.    
Madonna and Prince at table.
Naturally, Madonna will do what she wants to do. I’d like to see her try “When Doves Cry” if she takes the performance route, or maybe “Kiss.”  But knowing our girl, she’ll probably do “Scarlet Pussy” or “Sexy MF.” 
THE MAIL keeps coming in about our birthday salute to Ann-Margret. Loretta Kirinich notes that Turner Classic Movies recently aired A-M’s 1964 feature “Made In Paris” co-starring Louis Jourdan.  MGM’s legendary Helen Rose designed a fabulous wardrobe for the star and it is an expensive-looking production. However, as Ms. Kirinich notes, the script was tired and too much emphasis was  placed on A-M’s over-the-top brand of sex-appeal. (Had she come along earlier, studios would have toned her down, but by the 60’s, the system collapsing, A-M was on her own, and her motto was too much is never enough!)
Ann-Margret in “Made In Paris."
Still, if all you’re looking for is a visual feast of Ann-Margret, this all-but-forgotten film will do.  Our reader concludes that “Magic” with Anthony Hopkins is her favorite A-M movie and observes: “I believe her Swedish background kept her on an even keel ... so she had a happy ending, when so many others didn’t.” 
Ann-Margret with Anthony Hopkins in “Magic.”
Yes, not to mention a close relationship with her parents, the guidance of a loving husband, and the ability to keep her private life singularly private.  She was not, after the initial two or three years of her ascendance, a part of the Hollywood social scene. Some people thrive in that hothouse atmosphere of intrigue and deal making, gossiping and superficial friendships.

Not Ann-Margret.
Ann-Margret with her father Gustav Olsson, 1961.

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.