The Quarantine Stream: 'Grumpy Old Men' Brings Back the Magic of Jack Lemmon and Walter MatthauDecember 24, 2020
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Series: Grumpy Old Men
Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max
The Pitch: John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) and Max Goldman (Walter Matthau) are two curmudgeonly neighbors who have been at each other’s throats for years. The feud between the former friends intensifies when Ariel (Ann-Margret) comes along and provides a love interest for both of them that threatens to push their rivalry new heights.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau starred in a handful of comedies together throughout their long careers on the big screen. The Odd Couple is undoubtedly their best work as a duo, but only one other movie came close to matching the comedy magic that these two created, and it took 25 years for it to happen. The movie is Grumpy Old Men, and it takes the playful rivalry that the two real-life best friends often portrayed in movies and gave it a crotchety but entertaining new spin that has a big holiday heart.
Even though Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau didn’t team up nearly as often as many other iconic on-screen duos like Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy, they’re still one of the most famous comedic teams in cinema history. In Grumpy Old Men, their playful adversarial relationship is undeniably entertaining, especially when it comes to squaring off over their sultry, lively new neighbor Ariel. Their sharp insults and witty retorts come with just the right amount of comedic venom – enough that it brings a hearty laugh, but it still allows you to feel the longtime friendship that runs deep within their veins. Only the best of friends can be so ruthless with each other and still come out on the other side unscathed.
For some reason, Grumpy Old Men doesn’t get brought up as a holiday favorite, despite the fact that it takes place through both Thanksgiving and Christmas amidst the chilly winds and plentiful snow of Wabasha, Minnesota. There are entire comedic gags based around burying cars and tax collectors in snow. Even one of the most heartwarming moments in the movie happens on Christmas Eve, so why aren’t we talking about this more as a holiday movie, people?!
Aside from the incredible teamwork of Lemmon and Matthau, there’s also the comedic greatness of Burgess Meredith as the ancient father of Lemmon’s character, who is hilariously inappropriate and makes for one of the best series of outtakes in comedy history. Plus, there are solid supporting turns from Ossie Davis and Buck Henry, not to mention some extra charm to help pad out the movie from Kevin Pollak and Daryl Hannah as Matthau and Lemmon’s respective adult children.
If you’re looking to spend even more time with Lemmon and Matthau, you also can’t go wrong with the sequel, Grumpier Old Men (also available on HBO Max). It’s not nearly as good as the first movie, mainly since the rivalry feels a little more contrived this time around without a love triangle battle, but having Lemmon and Matthau back for another round of curmudgeonly comedy is worth the runtime, especially when they’re joined by screen legend Sophia Loren.
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