Written by Michael Clawson
Several days into their first trip of the Spring to their cozy, lakeside cabin, elderly husband and wife Norman and Ethel are joined by their grown daughter Chelsea, from whom Norman is estranged, her new dentist boyfriend Bill, and his mildly angsty teenage son, Billy. The Letterboxd plot description would have you think that what follows is a period of reconciliation between Norman and Chelsea, particularly since those characters are played by Henry and Jane Fonda, who famously had a father-daughter rift of their own.
But that’s not really what this is at all. In fact, Chelsea and her boyfriend bolt for Europe about as quickly as they arrive, leaving Norman and Ethel to take care of Billy for the month. Norman and Billy bond as they spend their days together fishing, while Norman also experiences the onset of Alzheimer’s.
It’s sappy and prettier than it is artful; footage of ducks on the sun-dappled surface of the lake isn’t much more than greeting card imagery, and the corny score that rarely lets up isn’t much better. Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn bring personality to their roles, but it isn’t enough to overcome the cliches by which their characters are each defined: he’s a cranky ‘ol geezer, she’s an outgoing free-spirit with the energy of a woman half her age. There isn’t much to their relationship as a couple, nor is there much of interest in Norman and Billy’s friendship. I did get some laughs from it, mainly from Norman’s sarcastic and self-deprecating wit. But it doesn’t have enough to say about entering your twilight years, and steps around the father-daughter dynamic that should have been its centerpiece.
On Golden Pond Trailer