In the seventies, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford had very different careers yet each was a major star. Fonda was, through the seventies, one of the best actresses at that time, her intensity and intelligence burning through in her best work which included the doomed Gloria in They Shoot Horses Don’t They? (1969), Klute (1971), Julia (1977) and Coming Home (1978). By the end of the seventies she had won two Academy Awards for Best Actress, and been nominated three other times. The New York Film Critics had twice honored her as Best Actress, while she had four Golden Globes for Best Actress.
Robert Redford was a movie star through and through, a light comedic actor who could venture into dramatic work from time to time. He was terrific as the all American hero flawed in some way, a part he played to perfection in The Way We Were (1973). His best work in the seventies was as Jeremiah Johnson (1972), a film he carried on his own. He and Fonda made just three films together, The Chase (1966), Barefoot in the Park (1967) and The Electric Horseman (1979) all major hits at the box office.
Their careers took very different turns in the eighties, Fonda becoming a work out icon, her tapes selling millions. she produced a film that won her father a long overdue Oscar, she herself was nominated for the same film and again for The Morning After (1986) but she acted less and less. Her best performance after the end of the seventies was an Emmy Award winning performance in Ther Doll Maker (1984) portraying an illiterate mountain woman who carved wooden dolls.
Redford won an Academy Award for Best Director for Ordinary People (1980) and settled into a career behind the camera and overseeing the Sundance Film Festival in Utah which became one of the country’s most important film festivals, supporting emerging new talent. He acted less frequently, but in 2012 won the coveted New York Film Critics Award for Best Actor for his nearly silent performance in All is Lost (2012).
Fonda and Redford are together in Our Souls at Night as senior citizens who know each other before becoming close friends, then lovers. Each plays their age making no attempt to hide the fact they are beyond seventy. Redford, once the golden god of Hollywood has not aged well, but he has aged honestly, while Fonda has fought aging with plastic surgery, but looks her age I think, still beautiful.
As directed by Ritesh Batra, Louis (Redford) is a retired schoolteacher, a widower who spends his days puttering around, doing the crossword, eating TV dinners. One night his wives friend comes over with an interesting proposal. Addy (Fonda) is a widower, lonely, and invites Louis to sleep at her home, in her bed. Not for sex, just for a companion sleeping next to her. As a widower I understand this, I miss my wife terribly at night time, not for the sex, but for the warmth of her curling into me. Louis and Addy begin this activity, having many conversations late at night in bed together until the inevitable takes place and they begin to fall in love. Of course in any small town there are no secrets and pretty soon they are the talk of the morning diner where a nasty old gossip portrayed by Bruce Dern takes notice and begins spinning tales. Further complications come when Addie’s grandchild is dropped off for the summer, though Louis proves a great help their bonding with the boy.
It becomes a challenge for the two seniors to stay together, but they clearly love each other and are ready to have a relationship late in their lives. Each has fallen in love for the last time in their lives.
Fonda is brilliant, a revelation even as Addie, a terribly lonely woman who misses her husband late at night, misses a warm body beside her. Opening up top Louis she tells him she lost a child when the girl was eleven and really she never recovered. She is smart, does not care what people think this late in her life, demanding that Louis comes through the front door not sneak in the back, and she freely admits how she feels, inching ever closer to him in the front seat of the truck in a lovely, poignant scene.
Redford does fine work as Louis, a proud man, who once left his wife for a short time to be with another woman but returned, loyal for the rest of her days. Though his wife was close with Addy, he never really took the time to know her, but now they are naked and vulnerable with one another.
Dern is always a pleasure to watch and Judy Greer has a lovely scene that has us wishing she were in the film a lot more than she is.
Very few films portray senior in a true and loving relationship where the characters are sexual creatures. Sarah Polley’s haunting Away from Her (2007) is likely the best to do so, also dealing with Alzheimers’ in its storyline. Our Souls at Night does not come close to being in the same league as that film, but it is a really good film about nice people who deserve a second chance at love and at a late age get it.
Truly it is never too late.
This gentle, lovely film is streaming on Netflix.