The Essential Works of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin: A Critic's Top Picks

Lily_Tomlin_Jane_Fonda_Split - H 2015
Courtesy of Everett Collection

Lily_Tomlin_Jane_Fonda_Split - H 2015

THR film critic Sheri Linden picks favorites from the rich careers of both actresses, who reunite onscreen for the first time since 1980's '9 to 5' in Netflix's new series 'Grace and Frankie.'

A version of this story first appeared in the May 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Thirty-five years after they gave Dabney Coleman hell in 9 to 5, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are toplining the Netflix comedy series Grace and Frankie. The pairing reunites two artists of impressive longevity and range. Here’s a rundown of unforgettable performances from two rich careers.


The Game Is Over (1966)

Fonda and director Roger Vadim were newlyweds when they made this update of Zola's novel La Curée . Notwithstanding the sex-kitten interludes and overripe visual design, Fonda is strikingly exultant and vulnerable as a trophy wife who falls for her stepson.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)

As searing a depiction of the Great Depression as has ever been put onscreen, Sydney Pollack's drama centers on a brutal dance marathon. Fonda's portrayal of a contestant battered by life is flinty and heartrending.

Klute (1971)

In one of the great New York crime thrillers (directed by Alan J. Pakula), Fonda brings intricate layers — sensuality, intelligence, rage — to her Oscar-winning performance as a prostitute who reluctantly teams with Donald Sutherland's detective.

Tout va bien (1972)

Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin used Brechtian theatrics and dashes of Keystone Cops to dissect class politics, with Fonda and Yves Montand persuasively channeling their star wattage into the roles of intellectuals at a marital impasse.

The Dollmaker (1984)

This made-for-TV period drama is a superior up-by-the-bootstraps saga, and Fonda's Emmy-winning turn as a resilient, homespun Kentuckian transplanted to Detroit is as warm and unfussy as the storytelling.


Nashville (1975)

In a departure from her caricatures on Laugh-In, Tomlin made her film debut as the most poignant character in Robert Altman's sprawling musical drama. Her gospel singer's wordless reaction to Keith Carradine's song "I'm Easy" is an indelible moment.

The Late Show (1977)

New Age meets Old Hollywood via the friction between Tomlin's free spirit and Art Carney's aging gumshoe in Robert Benton's heartfelt, stylish tribute to fringe-dwellers and a fading era. The chemistry between the two stars is a delight.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (1991)

An alienated teen, a pair of call girls and a bag lady are among the characters in Tomlin's one-woman show. Written by her wife, Jane Wagner, it's a tour de force of brilliant wordplay and physicality.

Short Cuts (1993)

There isn't a false note in Tomlin's turn as a waitress married to Tom Waits' hard-drinking ne'er-do-well in Altman's drama. Having settled for love as a state of disarray, her character moves seamlessly between annoyance and infatuation.

Flirting With Disaster (1996)

Tomlin puts a sly spin on the stereotypical '60s survivor in David O. Russell's comedy. Her LSD-manufacturing New Mexico homesteader gives what may be the big screen's most offhandedly funny talk-down from a bad trip.