Review: On Golden Pond (1981)


I’m 27 and I already feel old, Odin knows what I’ll feel like if I make 80!

Screenplay By: Ernest Thompson
Directed By: Mark Rydell

I’ve never understood why some people have such large problems with simple movies that convey a simple message and simple themes. Just because a movie is simple that doesn’t mean it is bad or without merit. On Golden Pond is very simplistic in what it wants to say and how it goes about saying it. But, that doesn’t mean it errs in its format, delivery or final product. Simplicity can and does often equal greatness and that is the case with On Golden Pond.

The story in On Golden Pond is one of opening up and learning to live with others. Nothing new and On Golden Pond stays within convention while telling its story. But, the story works, it is interesting and engaging. The acting helps, but we’ll get to that later. Some criticism has been tossed at the fact that none of the supporting characters appear to exist as anything more than devices for the two leads. That element didn’t bother me, I didn’t need a lot from the supporting characters because this was a story about Ethel and Norman. The supporting characters were touched upon just enough for my liking and they accomplished what they needed to accomplish. The story is delivered nicely and comes together for an uplifting image, and believe it or not, but uplifting films can and are often quite good.

There is a fair bit of schmaltz in On Golden Pond, but schmaltz can be used effectively and such is the case with On Golden Pond. The moments of sentimentality exist to drive the story forward and further the themes. Even the most sentimental moments serve a purpose and that is when sentimentality is being done right. There are movies where the sentimentality is overkill, but I didn’t find that to be the case in On Golden Pond.

The themes of On Golden Pond are more in the way of simplicity. Opening up to those around you and dropping your crusty shell aren’t new by any stretch of the imagination. But, just like with the story elements the themes are presented in a compelling and engaging fashion. A minor theme is one of having someone to pass your life onto. It may not be your own child, but we all wish for someone to enjoy what we enjoy and to take an interest in our interests. Norman finds someone to pass himself onto in the form of Billy Ray and this extends to his daughter as well.

Where On Golden Pond truly excels is in the acting of its two leads. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a movie with Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn in the lead will feature stupendous acting. It’s actually superfluous for me to even go into the acting of these two screen legends because everyone knows what they are capable of and On Golden Pond was yet another example of how great they can be. Without them the story and the themes wouldn’t have clicked as much as they did. They play perfectly off of each other and have incredible chemistry. Two bravo performances from actors who are capable of such stellar heights.

Over the years On Golden Pond has attained the moniker of Hollywood cheese. I’ll be the first to admit that it is a very sentimental and schmaltzy movie. But, there’s nothing wrong with sentimentality and schmaltz when they are done right. That’s even more the case when accompanied by great acting and an uplifting story. On Golden Pond is the swansong of the great Henry Fonda and an uplifting tale that should be right up anyone’s alley.




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