Grumpy Old Men (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Sometimes the films I enjoy the most aren't the ones that get four stars. For example, while Farewell My Concubine is an example of superior, powerful film making, it isn't the sort of movie you embrace for the pure magic of the entertainment it offers. Grumpy Old Men, on the other hand, is such a film, and while it won't come close to my top 10 best list for 1993, it will be right up there among the pictures that I had the most fun watching.

John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) and Max Goldman (Walter Matthau) have been neighbors since they were kids, and the feud between them has lasted almost as long. A state of uneasy coexistence is in place, with namecalling and practical jokes being the most heated their exchanges get. Their rivalry turns more serious, however, when both of them become interested in the new neighbor across the street. Ariel (Ann- Margaret) is vivacious, beautiful, and alluring, and both John and Max are smitten.

While not without its problems (some of which are readily apparent), Grumpy Old Men works more often than not. It's an example of a frothy, good-natured holiday picture that adults can relax and enjoy. As a comedy, the movie contains enough fresh humor to keep the laughs coming. Dramatically, however, it's rather feeble. There are formulas at work here, and anyone admitting to be surprised by the "plot twists" should hang his or her head in shame.

Fortunately, drama always plays second fiddle to comedy, and this is a consistently funny motion picture. There's everything from slapstick to puns, with a lot of clever references and gags. Witness Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau's "performances" to the song "I'm too Sexy", Lemmon's send-up of Macaulay Culkin's aftershave scream from "Home Alone", and the little dance number Lemmon does in his underwear. The end credit outtakes are perhaps the comic highlight of the movie.

Lemmon and Matthau are perfect for their roles as lifelong sparring partners. Of course, these two are no strangers to this sort of interplay, having done it several times before, most memorably in The Odd Couple. This is an example of perfect casting, as is the choice of Burgess Meredith as the tough- talking, dirty-minded patriarch of the Gustafson family.

Ann-Margaret is adequate as the catalyst of the newest phase in the Gustafson/Goldman feud, giving an energetic but not particularly memorable performance. Kevin Pollack and Daryl Hannah are kept in the background. Ossie Davis, consummate professional that he is, takes a minor role and turns it into something special.

Most attending a showing of Grumpy Old Men will leave the theater with a smile, and that's bascially what the movie is aiming for. The overly-sentimental melodramatic elements don't appreciably degrade the movie-going experience. I can't think of many better ways to spend the holiday season than with John Gustafson and Max Goldman. They may be irascible and stubborn, but they're a lot of fun -- as long as you don't have to eat dinner with them.

Grumpy Old Men (United States, 1993)

Director: Donald Petrie
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann-Margaret, Burgess Meredith, Ossie Davis, Kevin Pollack, Daryl Hannah
Screenplay: Mark Steven Johnson
Cinematography: Johnny E. Jensen
Music: Alan Silvestri
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 1993-12-25
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1