On Golden Pond Reviews
(Full review TBD)
First, let's talk about what is done well - Henry Fonda's great performance as a senior citizen. We get all the humor we can get about an old man through Fonda's performance - he doesn't sound like himself at all, he'll make harsh jokes every now and then based on sexuality or race, he's extremely forgetful. But most of all, from a few key scenes we can clearly see that Thayer is afraid of death hitting him soon, even though this contradicts what he says throughout the movie. It is nearly heartbreaking (but also pretty cheesy) when his daughter confronts him towards the conclusion of the film about never acting as a true friend to her like he has been acting around Billy, who is Chelsea's soon-to-be stepson. It is a great moment to analyze whether their relationship has failed in the past based on gender or simply because Fonda's character was not a good father to Chelsea.
Sadly, Fonda's performance along with that climactic moment about repairing his relationship with Chelsea are the only things of merit/interest for this film in my eyes. The main story is about Chelsea and her new fiance Bill leaving Bill's son, Billy, with Chelsea's parents while they take a trip. What a weird decision to leave a thirteen year old kid alone with two elderly citizens whom he just met and is not even related to. Best parenting ever. While it is a delight to see Billy become friends with Norman, their "journey" is not that exciting at all except for when Norman and Billy become stranded on a rock in the middle of the pond after an accident.
To put it simply, with actors of this particular caliber, their final movie could have been a lot stronger, but instead they starred in a decent melodrama at the end of their careers, not quite reaching the greatness of movies we come to expect from Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn.
Norman and Ethel Thayer are an aging couple in their 80s that take summer vacations on the pond. She spends days cooking and reading and he spends days fishing and complaining. One day their daughter shows up with a new man and her teenage son. She asks the grandparents to watch their grandchild and a fantastic, magical summer unfolds.
"She said she's in love with her dentist."
"What does her boyfriend think of this?"
Mark Rydell, director of The Cowboys, The River, The Rose, For the Boys, The Fox, Even Money, and Harry and Walter go to New York, deliver On Golden Pond. The storyline for this picture is very well written and contains fun and entertaining characters. There are some great messages sprinkled throughout the film and the performances by Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn were awesome.
"One of the lesbians expired."
I came across this on Netflix while looking up Henry Fonda pictures and had to add it to my queue. I finally got around to seeing this and I love it. This is a very entertaining picture that reminds me so much of my life in Maine.
"Don't be such an old poop."
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