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On Golden Pond, old Norman Thayer,
A neither fond nor kind naysayer,
Will celebrate his eightieth year
And broods at length that death is near.
 
Growing old leaves him nonplussed
As years of gold begin to rust.
His kindly wife, his Ethel poses:
Aim at life and smell the roses.
 
Their Chelsea, grown, arrives one night
And not alone nor without spite.
Her dentist beau she calls Bill Ray
Is with her, though they cannot stay.
 
They drop Bill’s son with both the Thayers,
Whose thoughts of fun are fishing snares.
While first the boy is rather bored,
He finds the joy peace can afford.
 
The fishing trips and classic tales
And Norman’s snips when Norman fails
Become routine. Each finds a friend,
And no one’s keen for this to end.
 
On Golden Pond, the man and lad
Share better bonds than Chelsea had.
She tries to please and move beyond
Bad memories on Golden Pond.
 
Despite their love, Norman must be
Reminded of mortality,
But death can wait. For memories fond,
It’s not too late on Golden Pond.
______________
 

Based on Ernest Thompson’s play, On Golden Pond is a beautiful portrait of difficult family relationships, elderly anxieties, and how a small cast of imperfect characters deal with such issues. Like 12 Angry Men, Henry Fonda’s only other film on my list, On Golden Pond is a Triple A movie, one that is All About the Acting. It was his last film before his death and earned him his only Best Actor Academy Award. Katharine Hepburn as Ethel Thayer also won Best Actress, and both undoubtedly deserved their accolades. The gentle repartee between the two master thespians connotes a lifetime together on which Henry’s apparent bitterness has no effect. Every pessimistic barb he releases is countered by her encouragement, such that they truly complement each other.

Plays are different from films in many ways, but the most notable disparate aspect is the dialogue. Movies can try to make do with a mediocre script in favor of amazing visuals or ample star power, but plays (especially non-musicals) live and die by the keenness of their scripts. Thompson won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for good reason because On Golden Pond’s is a masterpiece. Every conversation feels entirely real, with believable humor and sentiment, only enhanced by the seasoned professionals speaking.

While I have wonderful parents and can’t personally relate to Chelsea’s poor connection with her father, my VC had a parent who was likewise “emotionally constipated,” as she calls it. The depiction of this stiff relationship is well-written and balanced; Norman is at fault for his tactless criticisms, and Chelsea is at fault for taking them so personally, compared with her mother who knows Norman’s inarticulate love outweighs his external brusqueness. The father-daughter reconciliation is given greater authenticity by the fact that Jane Fonda as Chelsea really was his daughter.

Like Pixar’s Up, the film is also a warm portrayal of the potential affection between the old and new generations. While young Billy Ray expects Norman to be a boring old codger, which he is, he finds enjoyment in simple pleasures foreign to his life in L.A. When Norman urges him to read an unknown book called Treasure Island, I’m reminded of my astonishment when one of my cousins also claimed to have never read it nor heard of author Robert Louis Stevenson. Norman’s preoccupation with fishing and books may be old-fashioned, but the ways in which he gets Billy to enjoy these supposedly boring amusements are both refreshing and satisfying. (I can’t help but wonder if this could be done with the present generation of smartphone addicts.)

Punctuated by Henry Fonda’s nuanced curmudgeon, On Golden Pond is a simple but effective film which also boasts lovely waterfront cinematography and a mellow, Oscar-nominated score, part of which is suspiciously reminiscent of a few strains from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Yet the acting is truly what makes it a classic; Henry Fonda made quite an impact on Hollywood, but this final role was his best.

Best line: (Billy Ray) “So, I heard you turned 80 today.”
(Norman) “Is that what you heard?”
(Billy Ray) “Yeah. Man, that’s really old.”
(Norman) “You should meet my father.”
(Billy Ray) “Your father’s still alive?”
(Norman) “No, but you should meet him.”

 

Artistry: 10
Characters/Actors: 10
Entertainment: 8
Visual Effects: N/A
Originality: 9
Watchability: 8
Other (script, score, and relationships): +8
Other (language): -1
 
TOTAL: 52 out of 60
 

Next: #101 – The Passion of the Christ

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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