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On Golden Pond (DVD) Review
Nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, and eventual winner of 3 Oscars, On Golden Pond is an unconventional Hollywood blockbuster. Based on the play of the same name by Ernest Thompson, the film features a character-driven storyline that explores many themes such as aging, abandonment, and family relationships of different types. Veteran film and television director Mark Rydell packs the big screen with an all-star cast for this 1981 outing. Due to its well-developed characters and realistic portrayal of human interactions, this is a film that will almost make you certainly laugh, cry and/or smile. In fact, if you don’t find Norman to be one of the most hilarious and quirky characters ever created, you don’t have to watch the same movie.
On Golden Pond follows the lives of a retired New England couple on their annual summer vacation to Golden Pond. Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda) is an aging, long-retired college professor. Sarcastic and grumpy, he manages to distance himself from almost everyone except his wife Ethel (Katharine Hepburn). In fact, his biting attitude nearly destroys his relationship with his daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda). When Chelsea brings her new boyfriend Bill (Dabney Coleman) to visit, Norman is quick to stir things up once again. But Norman and Ethel receive an unexpected summer guest when Bill and Chelsea take an extended vacation to Europe and leave Bill’s 13-year-old son Billy in their care. It makes for an odd trio, but as the three learn to live with each other’s quirks, they also learn from each other. But the real test for the new family comes when Chelsea and Bill return from Europe. Can she learn to accept her father’s vices? And can Norman finally be proud of his daughter for who she is?
Hollywood veterans Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda turn in two of the best performances of their respective careers. Fonda is absolutely brilliant as the doddery, grumpy Norman. You can’t help but laugh at his antics, though it helps that he has the best lines written in the entire film. Dabney Coleman, though brief in his appearance, makes an immediate impression when he engages in classic dialogue with Henry Fonda about the evening’s sleeping arrangements. However, in the end, On Golden Pond works because of the chemistry between the three characters that encompass the majority of the story – Ethel, Norman, and Billy. They bond to create an epic drama filled with conflict, conquest, and mayhem without all the usual Hollywood blood and gore. It’s truly rare for a film of this nature to capture audiences without boring them, and On Golden Pond succeeds.
Rounding out this solid cast and storyline is a simple but memorable instrumental soundtrack composed by veteran TV and film composer Dave Grusin, known for such works as Tootsie (1982) and The Goonies (1985). Filmed on location in and around Squam Lakes in New Hampshire, the beauty and majesty of this untouched landscape blend perfectly with its bespoke soundtrack to create a theme of endless peace and tranquility. All in all, it makes for a rather enjoyable cinematic experience. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch On Golden Pond. Then see if you can say “Ethel Thayer” very quickly without lisping!
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