Golden Oldies Deliver Golden Performances
If you combine the cantankerous nature Of Clint Eastwood's Walt Kowalski in "Gran Torino" with James Stewart's charm that he demonstrated in various movies you would get Henry Fonda's grumpy but lovable Norman Thayer Jr. in the glorious "On Golden Pond". A movie which in many ways makes me slightly sad, not because of the enjoyable yet poignant storyline but because Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn combine to deliver that touch of classic Hollywood which modern stars and modern movies miss so dearly.
As Norman (Henry Fonda - The Cheyenne Social Club) and Ethel Thayer (Katharine Hepburn - Rooster Cogburn) return to their cottage on Golden Pond so do the birds which welcome them back with their calls from the lake. It's a special year as it's Norman's 80th birthday and their daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda - Monster-in-Law), who they've not seen for ages, decides to visit with her new boyfriend and his son Billy Ray Jr. (Doug McKeon) despite her relationship with her father being strained. When Ethel suggests they leave Billy Ray Jr. with her and Norman to spend summer on the pond a surprising friendship forms between the cantankerous Norman and the rebellious teen.
It has to be acknowledged that the storyline to "On Golden Pond" is quite simplistic but at the same time is also multilayered. At its heart it is the tale of Norman as he accepts that he is approaching the end of his life, as his body and memory fails him but at the same time it is about the enduring love he shares with his wife Ethel. On top of this there is the tumultuous relationship between Norman and his daughter as well as the bonding he shares with her partner's son Billy Ray. It is all very straight forward stuff but director Mark Rydell turns it into compelling viewing, drawing us in to the life on Golden Pond and the relationships which form and change.
It is Rydell's deft touch which manages to combine the rose tinted view of a summer on the glorious lake with the emotional and poignant aspects of the storyline. He manages to capture the beauty of the surroundings, the simplicity of tranquil life where swimming, fishing and playing board games makes up much of the daily chores yet he instils some drama into it all, which injects just enough tension at points where it could transcend into an overly rose tinted vision of life. It's that balance which makes "On Golden Pond" such a glorious movie, which is hard to give credit too through words alone, it's a movie which has to be watched to fully appreciate what Rydell achieves.
But it is also the wonderful characters and leading those is Henry Fonda who as already mentioned plays a lovable yet cantankerous old devil in Norman who has a mischievous side to him as he plays mind games with those around him. It's pure old fashioned entertainment but is also rather touching as we watch Norman forced to accept his own frailties, his memory loss as well as the acceptance that he probably doesn't have many years left as he celebrates his 80th birthday. It's also poignant in the fact that his own daughter Jane Fonda stars alongside him, as his on screen daughter Chelsea and their scenes together are surprisingly emotional. It's a nice journey between them as Chelsea starts off quite cold to her father in the same way he is to her but by the end of the movie their relationship has softened not to being best friends but to the point that the barriers between them are coming down.
Whilst there are also notable performances from Dabney Coleman who is quite humorous as Bill Ray Snr and Doug McKeon as his son Billy Ray Jr. probably the most enjoyable is that from Katharine Hepburn as the delightfully vibrant Ethel Thayer. Hepburn like Fonda brings that classic Hollywood to her character and delivers that touch of hootspa which you expect from the lovely actress. Together Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn make "On Golden Pond" such a memorable and touching experience creating characters which are real, believable and that you come to love and care about. When some drama crops up in the movie you really are left feeling concerned for them, making this that rare experience of a movie which is not just 2 dimensional but one which draws you in to the character's lives and to appreciate their love for each other.
What this all boils down to is that "On Golden Pond" is without a doubt a great movie. It may at times deliver a slightly rose tinted view of life but it counter balances that with a simple yet multi-layered storyline about love and relationships which draws you in to every single scene. It's also a movie which delivers that touch of classic Hollywood with the superb pairing of Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn who between them deliver one of the most charming and lovable couples to have appeared on film. As already mentioned "On Golden Pond" is a movie which is hard to do justice to through words alone and is a movie which needs to be watched to fully appreciate.