On Golden Pond (1982) is unremarkable Oscar bait from the 1980s

On Golden Pond has performances that morph and adapt over the course of the film, mainly in the sense of revelation and mutual understanding between characters, but the film does have one fundamental flaw that prevents this from being anything more than simply average. Outside of the low consequence nature of the screenplay and the innocuous tone of the plot, I couldn’t get past the casting decision to play Henry (Norman) and Jane Fonda as estranged father-daughter. I was never convinced that Jane despised her father and it feels like bad casting when anyone could’ve played his daughter. And not only that but the tacked on ending that resolves this emotional distance in the final hour as if years of resentments get settled in a matter of minutes. It’s feasible to think Norman changed a great deal over the narrative, but he never has a reconciliation with his daughter until it’s almost too late. Although, it is a novelty to see the two of them acting together.

However, Katherine Hepburn is, of course, marvelous and dashing as Norman’s wife. She’s as much of a firecracker in this as she was in her heyday. Fonda and Hepburn develop excellent chemistry, adding extra layers to the curmudgeon character of Norman. She brings an endearing and calming presence to a story that’s wise and unassuming. The other part of the film I enjoyed was Doug McKeon as Billy Ray. It’s not the most convincing performance, but his enthusiasm around Norman brings out the levity in a story that desperately needed some.

The simplicity of the concept and story structure focused the attention on character and provided little reason to stay engaged in their arc. Performances were affectionate, but not enough to keep me entertained for longer than five minutes at a time. Heartfelt film but nothing truly memorable here.


★★½ / Out of 5★s (69)

(82-77-79-75-78-82-80-76-76-75-73-78-65-81: 76.92)

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