From its opening scene, when the elderly Thayers, Norman (Henry Fonda) and Ethel (Katherine Hepburn) arrive at their lake cottage, On Golden Pond revels in watching its characters bicker. Director Mark Rydell lets us see the ways in which Ethel the optimist and Norman the grump don’t get along before revealing to us in scenes of loon-watching and middle finger-flipping, the many ways in which they do. From this small portrait of dueling personalities, the film will branch out into a look at dueling generations before once again showing us how love conquers all.
On Golden Pond really kicks off when Norman and Ethel’s daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda) arrives at the cottage with her new beau (Dabney Coleman, excellent and hilarious) and his son, Billy. The clash of three generations, two of them strangers to Norman and Ethel, is only further complicated by the fact that Chelsea feels herself regressing the way grown children tend to do around their parents. In Chelsea’s case, though, that means stirring back up animosities about the distance between her and her father.
Experiencing the film on Blu-ray is far more enjoyable than not but, in the negative column, it does mean enhanced sound for the plunking, sitcommy score. That headache will be forgotten, though, when you spy the shimmering ripples of the lake at twilight.
On Golden Pond isn’t all squabbles and sunsets, though. One of the standout sequences, in which Norman and Billy navigate a boat through rocky shallows to find the perfect fishing spot, is an unsubtle clue that the film is really about the numerous rites of passage that we never cease to face. Whether you’re an adolescent or an old man, there’s always room to grow.
Special features include a commentary by Rydell and featurettes looking back at the film in general and Hepburn in particular.