Challenge Week 3: Grumpy Old Men

I’ve never been too motivated to see out the later Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau vehicles, despite being a fan of both of them in their earlier years – unconscious ageism? Probably. Anyway, I should’ve expected these two to play well off each other, given their respective talent and proven chemistry back in the ’60s, and they do. In a way, watching this felt comfortable, because even as John (Lemmon) and Max (Matthau) feud and play tricks on each other, it’s clear the two actors are having a bunch of fun just hanging out together on screen again.


It’s winter in Minnesota and they’re having a heat wave, or so the oft-repeated song keeps telling us, but John and Max spend their days bundled up ice fishing and chatting with bait store owner Chuck (an always-wonderful Ossie Davis) and their nights ogling new next-door neighbor Ariel (Ann-Margret). And if you thought these two grumpy old men were old and grumpy, wait until you meet John’s dad (Burgess Meredith), a 94-year-old firecracker whose frankness embarrasses John as if he were still a teenager.

Any time John and Max are interacting is pretty enjoyable, and Ann-Margret lights up the screen any time she graces it with her presence, but I was a fair bit annoyed with how her character gets treated. She starts off almost as a manic pixie dream girl (woman), given quirks like running around in the snow in her bathing suit, stealing people’s mail to find out about them, displaying a larger-than-life nude sculpture of her husband (passed away) in her living room, gutting her TV to put a fish tank in it, etc. Then she becomes little more than a prize to be won by either John or Max as part of their ongoing feud. Seriously, when John gives her up because he realizes he’s hurting Max (backstory: the girl Max loved as a young man chose to marry John), she starts taking up with Max because a) apparently she can’t be without a man around and b) he’s apparently the only other man around? (Potential third contender Chuck was also written out pretty summarily, which is kind of a shame.)


Anyway, her scenes with Lemmon are very tender and sweet, so I’m not begrudging that or the eventual ending, but the arc surrounding the whole relationship/love triangle irritated me. I also felt like they went for some easy and not-terribly-funny laughs with John’s dad – who even asks “did you mount her”? Like, really? WTF. However, the string of “outtakes” under the closing credits where he comes up with ever more ridiculous ways to suggest Chuck is getting it on with Ariel are pretty hilarious. So it’s not just that I have no sense of humor. :)

Looking back through to find screencaps pulled up a number of scenes and moments and jokes I really liked – the way Max takes charge of John’s IRS issues is great, and the last act is a good resolution for their non-romantic character arcs. I had an overall good time with the film, especially thanks to Lemmon and Matthau’s easy chemistry and Ann-Margret’s luminosity. The love triangle/male competition aspect of it just dragged it down a bit.


Stats and stuff…

1993, USA
directed by Donald Petrie; written by Mark Steven Johnson
starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann-Margret, Daryl Hannah

I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Grumpy Old Men entered my chart:

Grumpy Old Men beat Million Dollar Baby
Grumpy Old Men lost to Premium Rush
Grumpy Old Men lost to The Mask of Zorro
Grumpy Old Men beat Buried
Grumpy Old Men lost to Rhapsody Rabbit
Grumpy Old Men lost to Hamlet (1948)
Grumpy Old Men beat Road to Utopia
Grumpy Old Men beat Falling Hare
Grumpy Old Men lost to One Fine Day
Grumpy Old Men lost to Mystery Team
Grumpy Old Men lost to Three Little Pigs
Grumpy Old Men beat Hard Luck

Final ranking #1524 out of 3581 films on my chart (57th percentile)

It is now my #6 Jack Lemmon film, my #5 Walter Matthau film, my #1 Ann-Margret film, my #1 Donald Petrie film, my #27 Buddy Film, my #8 Odd Couple Film, and my #16 film of 1993.

Grumpy Old Men was recommended by Nigel Druitt, a friend from the Flickcharters Group on Facebook. Averaging together this #1524 ranking with my #874 ranking of his other film, Heat, Nigel gets an average ranking of #1199.

A few quotes…

Jacob: [to Max, who’s surreptitiously changing John’s TV channels] You’re a child.
Max Goldman: Don’t tell me Jacob; it isn’t me.
Jacob: Oh it never is. Uh huh, I’m sure John started every fight since 1940.
Max Goldman: 38!

Ariel Truax: The only things in this life that you really regret are the risks you didn’t take.

Max Goldman: [to IRS agent] Do me a favor. Put your lip over your head… and swallow.

Grandpa Gustafson: Kids; Can’t live with them, can’t shoot them.

Max Goldman: John! John! Are you dead?
John Gustafson: Not yet. But I don’t want to die looking at your ugly face.

John Gustafson: Moron!
Max Goldman: Putz!

Grandpa Gustafson: Looks like Chuck’s taking a ride on the wild baloney pony.

A few more screenshots…