Grumpy Old Men Movie Review
Milking a 50-odd year rivalry, John Gustafson (Lemmon) and Max Goldman (Matthau), for reasons where logic dare not tread, live right next to each other in suburban Minnesota. Their lives hinge on very few things: Their kids, fishing, grandkids, fishing, evading tax collectors, fishing, and going to the bait shop to talk with Charlie (Ossie Davis) about fishing. That is when they aren't being a royal pain in each other's asses.
This all changes when Ariel (Ann-Margret) moves in across the street, complete with outside sauna and ski-mobile. This red-haired, finely aged temptress re-invigorates both men and their playful hijinks while also stirring up the event that caused their falling-out all those decades ago. Egged-on by Gustafson's wily father (Burgess Meredith) and Charlie, the two men battle for Ariel's affections as if youth itself were the reward.
"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm," Thoreau once said, and that is exactly what powers Petrie's blatantly episodic film. Scarcely more than the aforementioned elderly update, Grumpy Old Men is a showcase for how a comedic pairing can hold up over the years and neither Lemmon nor Matthau act as if they're a day past their respective 1970s pinnacles. 16 years after the film's initial release and countless midnight airings on TBS past, I still can't help but giggle at Matthau saying "eat my shorts" or Lemmon's dance as he makes a post-coital breakfast of eggs and Tabasco.
What ruins the fun is the prattling need for structure outside the central rivalry. The most heinous of these distractions would be Gustafson's daughter (Daryl Hannah) and her troubles with her on-again-off-again husband (Christopher McDonald). The appearance of the latter would seem to be a major factor leading to the near-tragedy that typifies the last stretch of the film. There's also some nonsense about Gustafson owing the town thousands of dollars that he doesn't have and Goldman's son (Kevin Pollak) running for mayor.
There aren't many great comedy duos anymore. Perhaps Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly would qualify? The thought of the two foul-mouthed manbabies replicating their bit in their later years certainly makes one chuckle. Of course, the Lemmon-Matthau chemistry wasn't bulletproof: Check out the laughless Out to Sea. Yet, in Grumpy and its similar sequel Grumpier Old Men, the chemistry between the feuding curmudgeons provides a merciful aside from the absolute mess of lazy direction and tired scripting that hides beneath it. That we are now stuck without them is no laughing matter whatsoever.