Grumpy Old Men
Directed by Donald Petrie. Starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann-Margret, Kevin Pollock, Ossie Davis, Daryl Hannah, Burgess Meredith. (1993, PG-13, 104 min.)
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Dec. 24, 1993
I like grumpy old men, as a species. Even though he was young, my father was a grumpy old man and, at 43, I have long been one. Thus I find it funny when Walter Matthau -- more elastic-faced than ever, literally capable of cartoon-esque physical exaggeration -- calls his next-door neighbor Jack Lemmon a moron. When, just as casually, Lemmon calls him an idiot, you realize they've been doing this for decades -- digging their cars out of the frozen Minnesota morning, abusing and insulting each other. Matthau is a retired TV repairman, Lemmon a retired teacher, every day they curse at each other and go ice fishing, alone. Sitting in separate cabins, holding their poles over holes chipped in the ice, they each watch TV and drink beer. Meredith, in a randy turn as Lemmon's father, seems to be permanently living on the ice. Then Ann-Margret blows into the neighborhood, gorgeous and almost too friendly. At least a decade younger, she teaches English at a local college and believes that life should be experienced. She is a warm, explosive presence in their dark, alone lives and they both fall for her. Except it doesn't make sense, the incongruity of her presence suggests a more startling film than the sweet little romance this turns out to be. Ann-Margret's performance is too big for love, so she overwhelms the sense of the story. The romance just doesn't work, despite really fun performances from all the leads. It is as though they are in different films and we don't want them in the same one. But that's what we get. Grumpy Old Men is supposed to be about how love reinvents life and I'm not even really sure where it gets lost, but it ends up going nowhere.