With huge movies like Star Wars, Mockingjay: Part 2, and The Good Dinosaur taking over these last few months of the year, it's easy to accidentally overlook the many great indie movies also hitting theaters now. From James White to Brooklyn, plenty of small, wonderful films have been released this past fall, and more are coming out every week. One particular noteworthy release is Youth, an odd, mesmerizing starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel. There is plenty to love about the dramedy, but it's the (spoiler!) Jane Fonda cameo in Youth that stands out the most. Quick but stunning, Fonda's appearance in the film will stay with you long after you leave the theater.
The legendary actress doesn't appear until long into the movie, but when it hits, it steals every bit of your attention. (More spoilers to come). In the film, Fonda plays Brenda Morel, an iconic actress on the hunt for a project that'll keep her in the spotlight despite her abnormal-for-Hollywood age. Screenwriter Mick Boyle (Keitel), one of the movie's lead characters, has worked with his longtime friend Brenda frequently in the past, and is expecting to get her on-board his newest project, a script he completed while vacationing with Fred (Caine) in the Swiss Alps. Yet although Brenda visits Mick at the resort, it's only to tell him that she won't star in his movie, an admission that angers Mick and breaks his heart. He doesn't understand why Brenda won't do one more movie with him, and her matter-of-fact explanations — his films have lost their prestige, she's moving on to TV — just add to the bite.
The scene is hugely compelling, for the powerful acting of its stars (both Fonda and Keitel are wonderful) as well as the fact that it's a conversation anyone familiar with Hollywood's practices can understand. Brenda is an older actress who may still be as talented as she was in her youth, but because of her age, she has lost much of her appeal to studios; she needs a role that'll keep her in-demand, or else risk ending her career. Having such a legendary actress as Fonda in the role adds to its intensity, as it can be assumed the star, and many of her peers, is all too familiar with that unfair conundrum. It wouldn't be quite as compelling a scene if an unknown actress played Brenda; in order to have the maximum effect, Fonda, or a peer like Jessica Lange or Ellen Burstyn needed to be cast.
Fonda's presence in Youth doesn't end with this conversation. Heartbroken and convinced his career is over, Mick commits suicide, jumping off the hotel balcony. Many of his loved ones feel the effects of his death, including Brenda. In an absolutely wrenching moment, the movie shows her, on a plane back to America, having to be restrained by flight attendants when she presumably hears the news of Mick's death. It's an incredibly short scene, but the power of Fonda's performance and her character's agony is immense.
Youth will likely not be seen by a big crowd — it was made for just $12 million and is flying largely under the radar — but with performances like Fonda's, it shouldn't be missed. Already, she's won Supporting Actress of the Year from the Hollywood Film Awards, and she's nominated for a Satellite Award; only time will tell if Golden Globe, SAG and Oscar call her name, as well. But with a performance like that, it's hard to imagine they won't, even if, unfortunately, most audiences won't end up seeing her work themselves.
Image: Fox Searchlight; Giphy