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On Golden Pond (1981)
On Golden Pond is a 1981 American drama film directed by Mark Rydell. The screenplay by Ernest Thompson was adapted from his 1979 play of the same title. Henry Fonda won the Academy Award in what was his final film role. Co-star Katharine Hepburn also received an Oscar, as did Thompson for his script, and there were a further seven Oscar nominations for the film. The movie co-stars Jane Fonda, Dabney Coleman and Doug McKeon. An aging couple, Ethel and Norman Thayer, spends each summer at their cottage on a lake called Golden Pond. They are visited by daughter Chelsea, who is somewhat estranged from her curmudgeon of a father. Chelsea introduces them to her new fiance, Bill, and asks the Thayers to permit Bill's young son Billy to stay with them while she and Bill have some time to themselves. The boy is annoyed by being left with elderly strangers with no friends nearby and nothing to do. He resents Norman's brusque manner at first, but eventually comes to enjoy their Golden Pond fishing adventures together. Chelsea returns, a little exasperated and envious of the fact that Norman seemingly has bonded with a stranger's child in a way he never quite did with her.
On Golden Pond was definitely one of the latter category -- a manipulative, Oscar-ready mainstream drama. But surprisingly, it's not a bad movie.
Ernest Thompson's play about a couple of septuagenarian weekenders in New Hampshire griping about old age is a stalwart of community theater, but it lacks the dramatic punch necessary for the movies. So Thompson extensively rewrote the script, adding some unnecessary drama and so much profanity that I remember one of my pre-teen friends saying at the time, 'I thought the movie was OK, but dude, it was swear city!'
As a further box-office ploy, the dying Henry Fonda was cast in the role as the old husband, Norman Thayer, and in the role of Thayer's estranged daughter was Jane Fonda, Henry's real-life daughter. In the film, Jane Fonda's character uses so many ugly curse words to describe her father that her mother finally slaps her, which is way overdue.
Fortunately, her mother is played by Katharine Hepburn, whose luminous presence and quiet dignity carries the movie. In Hepburn's performance, her character's love for her husband and her exasperation with him are two sides of a coin. Hepburn uses the part to communicate many of the conflicting feelings of old age: the joy of living, the fear of being alone, disappointment in one's children, and acceptance of the past, present, and future.
The New England scenery is good, but the direction is pedestrian, and the only thing that Jane Fonda contributes to the film, other than her name, is overacting. That said, the Hollywood retouches do not completely obscure the moments of wisdom in Thompson's script, and the pathos in Henry Fonda's and Katharine Hepburn's last marquee performances makes On Golden Pond a worthwhile film.
Now that's love.