On Golden Pond

1981

On Golden Pond

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.

93%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 27

87%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 20,524
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Movie Info

There's little that happens in On Golden Pond that isn't thoroughly predictable from the start, but the film is blessed with so much star power, charm and honest sentiment that everyone in the audience is willing to ignore the cliches and go the distance. In his last film, Henry Fonda plays Norman Thayer, a cranky 80-year-old retired professor, making his annual pilgrimage with his wife Katharine Hepburn (in her only teaming with Henry Fonda) to their New England summer cottage. Their solitude is interrupted when the couple's daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) arrives with her fiance Bill (Dabney Coleman) and his son Doug McKeon in tow. It takes a while, but Jane Fonda and Coleman, about to go on a vacation of their own, persuade Henry Fonda and Hepburn to take care of McKeon. Henry Fonda and the kid dislike each other from Square One, and it looks as though this summer (which may very well be Henry Fonda's last) will be a depressing experience. Gradually, Henry Fonda and McKeon grow to love one another; their bond is strengthened during a near-fatal accident while fishing. It is through the warm relationship between Henry Fonda and the boy that the old man and his daughter Jane Fonda are at last able to display affection towards each other--the first time they've done so in years. Gorgeously photographed by Billy Williams, On Golden Pond is a wonderful valedictory for Henry Fonda, who died not long after the film's completion; Katharine Hepburn has less to do, but few can do so much with so little. Academy Awards were bestowed upon Henry Fonda, Hepburn, and screenwriter Ernest Thompson (who adapted the film from his stage play).

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Cast

Henry Fonda
as Norman Thayer Jr.
Katharine Hepburn
as Ethel Thayer
Jane Fonda
as Chelsea Thayer Wayne
Doug McKeon
as Billy Ray
William Lanteau
as Charlie Martin
Christopher Rydell
as Sumner Todd
Chris Rydell
as Sumner Todd
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Critic Reviews for On Golden Pond

All Critics (27) | Top Critics (8)

  • On Golden Pond is a rare and beautiful movie, radiating with humanity. Ernest Thompson has adroitly adapted his successful play to the screen, adding pictorial scope without sacrificing the human interplay.

    Oct 22, 2018 | Full Review…
  • There is a natural rhythm to the film that makes its own quiet, life-affirming statement.

    Feb 6, 2013 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • When it sometimes seems the whole society has spiritually decamped for Tinseltown, the movie offers the hope that people can come home again-at least for a visit.

    Jun 7, 2011 | Full Review…
  • Without question, these are major, meaty roles for Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, and there could have been little doubt that the two would work superbly together.

    Feb 4, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • Two of Hollywood's best-loved veterans deserved a far better swan song than this sticky confection.

    Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Watching the movie, I felt I was witnessing something rare and valuable.

    Oct 23, 2004 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for On Golden Pond

  • Aug 31, 2014
    I'm so tempted to make a reference to The Band's "Up On Cripple Creek", but that song is way too fun for a film this slow-I mean, sad. This film is reasonably entertaining, I guess, but it's more family dysfunction, and features Henry Fonda about a year away from dying, and that is some sad stuff, and premium Oscar bait, at least in the early '80s, when family dysfunction dramas were still being popular after "Kramer vs. Kramer". First, it's "Ordinary People", and now we have "Old People", with Jane Fonda being pretty decidedly an exception. Man, she was nearing her mid-40s in this film, and she was still hot, as well she should be if she was going to fulfill certain daddy issues that this film kind of helped her resolve. I guess annoying liberal democrats have to stick together, even if they are part of the family unit that they are trying to destroy, or at least deconstruct. Before this film, with "The Rose", Mark Rydell even made the rock star lifestyle look depressing, so as if family pond trips weren't already a bummer, just wait until you see this. No, really, I would recommend that you see this film, because it's a good note for Henry Fonda to go out on, despite its shortcomings. This film holds the potential to be pretty refreshing for what it is, and in a couple areas, it is, but on the whole, it's pretty predictable, hitting a number of tropes as it progresses down a familiar path, and at something of a limp clip, as well. Mark Rydell's steady directorial approach to storytelling is thoroughly realized more often than not, with adequate entertainment value and a solid deal of intrigue, but things really start to bland up once Rydell loses material to draw upon, as he does fairly often, or at least just often enough. By that, I mean that there is enough dragging to the storytelling to beget a sense of repetition, if not aimlessness, until the film begins to lose focus, if not consistency to focus. Minimalist though this film's narrative may be, it does have certain distinct segments, and a sense of aimlessness goes exacerbated by jarring shifts between them, established through the film's dedicating too much time to each segment, yet not enough time to fleshing out the layers of this plot. Immediate development is barely there, and gradual exposition does have its lapses, in spite of nuanced storytelling whose depth would be more realized if there weren't certain sentimental extremes to the dramatics which shake a sense of genuineness, and overemphasize an ambition to milk this drama for all its worth that, in turn, overemphasizes the limitations of this drama. There is plenty about this story which is rich with a potential that, upon being hit, is thoroughly fulfilled, but there's also a lot of simplicity to it, and that is stressed by the predictability and questionable pacing and structure of this inspired, but ambitious and sometimes sentimental project. Of course, the final product compels pretty thoroughly throughout its course, delivering on resonance for every challenge to engagement value, to the point of immersing, with the help of a distinguished setting. As the title might suggest, this film focuses a good bit on its setting, filmed at Squam Lake in Holderness, New Hampshire, a lovely location that the filmmakers explore thoroughly, and polish through cinematography by Billy Williams that only stands out with its lighting, but stands out a good bit in that department. There's something beautifully tender about the visual style of the film, and about Dave Grusin's score, which is underused and conventional, but tasteful and lovely in its complimenting the genuine heart that drives a lot of the storytelling, and the story concept itself. The subject matter followed by the film may be predictable and light in scale, but it is of considerable value, at least in theme, dealing with an aging man coming to terms with his condition and finding a firmer grip on life, partly through his relationship with loved ones. Ernest Thompson's script is not as extensive as it could have been in fleshing out its narrative, no matter how much fat it leaves around the edges of storytelling, but it holds your attention through clever dialogue and humor, as well as a number of thoughtful spots to characterization that draws distinguished roles for the intimate storytelling to thrive on. Even Mark Rydell's direction is intimate, with a thoughtfulness that is a pinch bland at times, but near-consistently realized, enough so to milk the wit of Thompson's writing and sustain plenty of entertainment value, punctuated by sentimental touches that, when subtle, are near-piercing in their genuineness and resonance. This is a very moving character study, but it couldn't be if the characters weren't so well-portrayed, and sure enough, just about everyone delivers, with the lovely Jane Fonda, the endearing Dabney Coleman and the young Doug McKeon being pretty convincing in their respective supporting roles, while Katharine Hepburn, with her classic sparkling charisma at its most realized, would have stolen the show, if it wasn't for Henry Fonda's final performance, which is rich with charm, and with effortless dramatic layers whose more subtle spots capture a sense of fear in a man nearing the end of a long and happy life, and whose more charged spots sell the great deal of life and humanity still left in the Norman Thayer Jr. character. This is among the better performances Fonda gave throughout his career, and is therefore a good note for him to go out on, for it does about as much as the inspired storytelling when it comes to driving the final product as a touching tribute to life. In closing, the film is a little predictable, draggy and slow, and fairly uneven, with enough undercooked and sentimental touches to emphasize the natural shortcomings that most threaten the final product, whose solid engagement value is consistently and firmly secured by the lovely location, cinematography and scoring, clever writing, tasteful direction, and inspired performances - especially the final one by Henry Fonda - which drive Mark Rydell's "On Golden Pond" as a consistently compelling and sometimes deeply moving drama. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Jan 28, 2014
    Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn's farewell to the screen that provided so many wonderful memories is a jewel. A story of bonding through previous coldness. It is magnificent.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 08, 2013
    An aging couple cares for their estranged daughter's stepson. This is probably the nicest, sweetest, most wholesome film about death ever. The primary conflict, Norman's fear of death and his unfinished business, is treated with such a light-heartedness that the film takes on a dreamy pastoral quality. By itself, the film could be charming, able to deliver insight about going into the night with a smirk rather than a frown, but the film's conflict is complicated with the entrance of Norman's daughter. I understand that the conflict between Henry and Jane Fonda informs the film's contemporary interpretation, but as it plays today, there needs to be more setup than Chelsea's weeping into her mother's arms about Norman's placidity. The film's highlights are the performances. Even Jane Fonda is exceptional, and Katharine Hepburn plays the ideal, strong-willed grandmother, a woman all of us should want guiding our lives. Henry Fonda's Oscar win was deserved. Overall, it's hard to imagine so many ducks and landscape shots in a film about the inevitability of death, but at times, not often, On Golden Pond pulls it off.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Jun 15, 2013
    "On Golden Pond" may not be a terrific film, but it is a very peaceful, enjoyable experience. The main reason to watch it is because Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn are both quite amazing in their portrayal of an aging couple. Both are so strong and perceptive and there's such an undeniable chemistry between them.
    Stephen E Super Reviewer

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