Thursday, March 16, 2006

On Golden Pond


Dir: Mark Rydell (The Cowboys; The Rose; For The Boys; Intersection)

Here is one that had slipped through the cracks for me. Never having seen it, I knew the film had Hepburn and two Fondas and was hailed as very sensitive. There are lots of things to like about this movie. But I must admit to being disappointed in it. It has not aged all that well.

When it came out, this must have been a big deal. Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda both earn Oscars as an aging couple, she seemingly in her prime and he decrepit and infuriating. To have them on the screen together must have been something for those people who did not know they were still alive. Jane playing the daughter to her real life father, a famously rocky relationship, must have added some sensationalism to it as well. Of course, all of those elements no longer have the presentist juice that they did in 1981. This is not water cooler/tabloid fodder anymore, and the movie must stand on its own.

The story is very sappy, and I rarely say that. I have a high tolerance for schmaltz, but On Golden Pond spreads it thick all over the place. The love story is so interesting itself that it does not need the manipulation the script brings to it. Why would Hepburn love this man who is so difficult for the rest of the world to deal with? The film avoids probing the reasons behind the love and instead offers grand proclamations, "You are my night in shining armor." But why? I had to side with daughter Jane (and a really fine and tragically underrated Dabney Coleman as her fiance, best scene in the film) on this one.

The young child who lives with the the elderly couple for the summer is not enough of an actor to pull off that role. Much of the movie revolves around his coming of age and his effect on Fonda. Doug McKeon did play Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini in a TV movie opposire Robert Blake once. That is the sort of talent he brings to On Golden Pond.

But I am being too harsh. The cinematography is just wonderful, the Pond itself is the real star of the show. The premise of the story, as I mentioned before, is rare and important. Hepburn and Fonda have their moments (how could they not, they are both geniuses), especially the final scenes. But the movie suffers in my mind frpm failed aspirations.

What could have been a brilliant film is only a good one. It is sweet and touching, but not much more.