There is some unwritten rule that says tension must be sustained for any film to be good. I suppose in a rare few instances films are devoid of any acute sense of emotional tension: there’s no worrying whether or not the heroine/hero will get married, if that character will get the job, win the competition. It’s just a series of interesting, and sometimes profound events – On Golden Pond is one of those rare few films.
The plot of On Golden Pond would read thus – an elderly take their usual holiday on a cabin with the son of their daughter’s fiancé in tow. It doesn’t really tell you much, and On Golden Pond isn’t a story about actions as it is a story of people, of people in love. Norman and Ethel Thayer are well on their way into the grace [excuse the morbidity] and they are the perfect – if utopian – example of the couple as much in love at eighty as they were at twenty. Their relationship, one of ease and dependence, is the driving force of the narrative – Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn as such as the driving force of the film. The film definitively depends on them, and the ease and trueness of their relationship is clear from the get go. It’s a beautiful thing to watch these two actors – both legends – playing off each other. There is no shouting, no histrionics, no fights and not even any particular showing of tears. What we get instead is sheer simplicity that is just beautiful to observe.
Jane Fonda plays the daughter of the couple. Critics have somewhat lambasted her for not matching the brilliance of her “parents” but it’s a silly contention. These are acting legends; it’s difficult for anyone to match them. Fonda’s strongest scenes are those she plays opposite Hepburn. I’ve always found Kate to have amazing chemistry with her on-screen women [especially Holliday, Hussey, Houghton] and she brings out the best in Jane. It’s beautiful to watch.Doug McKeon and Dabney Coleman are good, the former gives a formidable child performance though the latter doesn’t get that much to chew, still their nothing to match Hepburn and Fonda [senior].
Rydell did something special with On Golden Pond and in a year of Reds and this, I always sigh a little that Chariots of Fire took home the Oscar, but prizes are just superficial, and On Golden Pond is such a lovely film that lack of them do nothing to mar its beauty. I’m not sure if all will like it as much, but On Golden Pond is an especial piece of cinema. Simple, effortless and exquisite.