Director: Donald Petrie
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Mathau, Ann-Margaret, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollack, Ossie Davis, and Burgess Meredith
” I also know the only thing in life that you regret are the risks that you don’t take.”
Retired history teacher John Gustafson (Lemmon) and retired TV repairman Max Goldman (Matthau) have been sworn enemies, and next door neighbors, their entire lives. Their rivalry only intensifies when Ariel Traux (Margaret), a college professor from California, moves in across the street in their small town of Wabasha, Minnesota.
I’ve seen this movie many times, mostly around the time it came out. I was probably too young for Grumpy Old Men when came out, but since my parents and grandparents loved the movie, that made it ok for me to watch. Although Lemmon and Matthau had done many movies together, this was my first exposure to either actor. As I’ve gone back through and seen a few more of each individually and acting together, I’ve been able to see the great talent each actor has and the great chemistry they have with one another. Gustafson and Goldman could easily be swapped for Felix Unger and Oscar Madison from The Odd Couple, Goldman is more working class and more of a slob whereas Gustafson is more straight-laced.
Though I may see this film through rose-colored glasses with fond memories from my childhood, revisiting Grumpy Old Men and its sequel Grumpier Old Men, has helped me have a better appreciation for each movie. It may be because I have a different appreciation for the complexities in each characters lives. I think I’ve been able to see this for more than just the comedic aspects. There is also tragedy and conflict in each character.
This movie has a tremendous supporting cast. Ossie Davis does great as the guy who cuts through the crap with John and Max. He calls it like it is and makes the most of his scenes. Daryl Hannah and Kevin Pollack are great as John’s daughter Melanie and Max’s son Jacob. Each does great with their own subplots (Melanie is in a bad marriage and Jacob is running for Mayor of Wabasha) and they do a great job putting these subplots within the main story. Burgess Meredith has very limited screen time in Grumpy Old Men, but he makes his presence known, and delivers some great one liners. I like that he is more prominent in Grumpier Old Men, and will reserve some of my thoughts on his performances for a review of that film.
Lemmon and Matthau showcase their chemistry in this movie. Each character is widowed and dealing with his own problems. It seemed only natural for their rivalry to rev up with Ariel entering their lives. Though the characters are considering themselves lifelong enemies, at the core they do care about each other. When Max realizes John is in trouble with the IRS, he does everything he can to help his neighbor. The scene where John tells Max that Chuck died is very powerful. John is taking his frustration out chopping wood, and upon sharing the news with Max, Max responds with anger. The moment Max goes in and sees his hat from Chuck’s bait shop, the news finally hits him.
Ann-Margaret does a fine job as the worldly and at times eccentric Ariel. She’s not overpowering, but definitely holds her own with the serious and comedic scenes in this movie. I haven’t seen very many Ann-Margaret films, but she complements Lemmon and Matthau in her scenes with each actor.
There are a few moments in Grumpy Old Men that I don’t distinctly remember from watching this movie years ago that I just enjoyed now. When John and Max are fighting on the frozen lake, Grandpa Gustafson (Meredith) yells at the guys and they immediately stop and Max refers to him as Mr. Gustafson. It’s humorous and interesting to me to see a man in his last 60s refer to someone older than him in a way that conveys respect and reverence. It’s also interesting to see Jacob have a lot of the same mannerisms and use the same phrases as Max. I realize he’s his son, but Petrie makes a point to have Jacob say lines like “Holy moly” and humming the same tune as his father did at the end of the movie.
This is an enjoyable movie to revisit. I liked seeing more of the family relationship aspects in these characters, something I paid less attention to when I was younger. That adds depth and enriches this movie. I will definitely watch Grumpy Old Men again, though it will probably be a while before I do so.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.