Picks and Pans Review: The Dollmaker

UPDATED 05/14/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/14/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

ABC (Sunday, May 13, 8 p.m. ET)

Watching Jane Fonda trying to act poor is a little like watching Meryl Streep trying to act uncouth in Silkwood. No matter how talented the actress, some things just aren't believable. Fonda's posture is too Workout-superb, her teeth too perfect. She's too rich. In her first big TV effort, Fonda plays a 1940s hillbilly woman who wants to buy a farm in her homeland; instead, she dutifully if dubiously follows her husband to his factory job in Detroit. Such was a woman's burden and her virtue: Fonda sacrifices all to care for others. It is an affectionate portrait of women of that generation. But there is some revisionist history à la Fonda as well: Her kids' city classroom is too well integrated and her expectation of day-care centers is too high for those days. Just as jarring is the prospect of Jane Fonda begging her husband to be a union scab. The problem is clear: It's hard to separate Jane Fonda from the role she's playing, especially this role. Nonetheless, if you try to do that, you are treated to some moments of tenderness and strength—as she cares for her children and friends, as she suffers grief at the loss of a child, as she proves herself much smarter than husband Levon (Coal Miner's Daughter) Helm by whittling wooden dolls for money, as she stands on her own: "All my life, I have been doing what I have been told." The production is slow and a little passionless. But it is a worthwhile tale. By the end, you come to like the woman Fonda plays and root for her.

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