Grumpy Old Men (film)

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Grumpy Old Men
Grumpy Old Men .jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Donald Petrie
Produced by John Davis
Richard C. Berman
Written by Mark Steven Johnson
Starring Jack Lemmon
Walter Matthau
Burgess Meredith
Daryl Hannah
Kevin Pollak
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography John E. Jensen
Edited by Bonnie Koehler
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • December 25, 1993 (1993-12-25)
Running time 103 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget US$35,100,000
Box office $70,172,621

Grumpy Old Men is a 1993 American romantic comedy film starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Ann-Margret, with Burgess Meredith, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollak, Katie Sagona, Ossie Davis and Buck Henry. Directed by Donald Petrie, the screenplay was written by Mark Steven Johnson, who also wrote the sequel, Grumpier Old Men (1995). The original music score was composed by Alan Silvestri. This was the sixth film starring both Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau and their first on-screen pairing since 1981's Buddy Buddy.


Retired school teacher and divorcee John Gustafson (Lemmon) and former TV repairman and widower Max Goldman (Matthau), are former childhood friends and longtime next-door neighbors in Wabasha, Minnesota. Their rivalry began decades earlier when John had "stolen" Max's high school sweetheart, May, with whom John went on to marry and have two children: daughter Melanie (Daryl Hannah), who is mother to his granddaughter Allie and who is separated from her husband Mike (Christopher McDonald), and son Brian, who was killed in the Vietnam War. Max went on to marry a woman named Amy and have one child: son Jacob (Kevin Pollak), who is a Wabasha politician who is running for (and eventually becomes) mayor of the town. Ironically, although the two men dislike each other their children get along. And more ironically both their children respect the other's fathers.

Despite their differences, both men lead similar boring and lonely single lives, and share a mutual love of the Minnesota winter pastime of ice fishing, as well as competing, arguing, insulting, and pulling cruel practical jokes on each other whenever possible. John, however, has a problem that Max does not have: he owes tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, and is going to great lengths to avoid agent Elliot Snyder (Buck Henry), who is after him to try and collect.

One morning, moving vans come through the neighborhood and Max and John discover that someone has bought the house across the street from them. They find out who it is when both men are awakened at 1:30 AM by the sound of a snowmobile racing up and down the street. They see their beautiful new neighbor is college professor Ariel Truax (Ann-Margret), a widow who quickly becomes the talk of the town with her exuberant lifestyle and bizarre tactics to get to know her new neighbors. Their mutual lifelong friend Chuck (Ossie Davis), who owns the lakeside bait shop, advises that they take advantage of the opportunity, as does John's 94-year old father (Burgess Meredith), who tells John that he should "mount her" as soon as possible. Chuck, to the amazement of everybody, takes the opportunity first, and after some good natured ribbing from Max and John he tells them of just how smitten he was and how they were fortunate to have her around.

Eventually, Ariel spends more and more time with John due to their shared intellectual interests and Max is having trouble processing the whole idea. In the process, Max also loses his prized fishing rod, which upsets him, and learns that Chuck has suddenly passed away. It is because of this that John and Max get into yet another scrap over Ariel, and because John is so frustrated he inadvertently opens the door to find Agent Snyder and is forced to meet with him. Things do not end all badly for John, however- Ariel decides to cook him dinner, and the two finish the evening with John's first sexual intercourse since 1978. The next day, John decides to show Max some respect and return his fishing rod, which John's father snagged while he was fishing. Unamused, Max rams into John's shanty (while he is inside fishing) and pushes it into the portion of the lake where the ice is too thin, which causes it to sink into the water. Convinced Max has gone too far this time, he decides to figure out why he has been acting so strangely.

Max accuses John of doublecrossing him again like he did with May. Offended, John snaps and mentions that unlike Ariel, she was "no prize" to him. He reveals they were unhappily married for 20 years. It's implied that while John was loyal to May, she often cheated on him with other men that lead to their eventual divorce. John admitted he did as a friend to save Max from making a huge mistake in marrying her. He goes on to tell Max off that had he married May, he never would had never married Amy. Though he won't openly admit anything, it's implied John had regrets in not waiting to have met and married Amy as she was more loyal in marriage than May. Although Max agrees with John that Amy was the best wife for him, he still refuses to let the grudge go. Their fight stops when John's father orders them to because they are scaring away the fish. Max closes the fight with reminding John that he will have nothing when the IRS takes his house and that he is too old to wait for another opportunity with a woman like Ariel. Even pondering this, John breaks up with Ariel despite having fallen in love with her. Ariel is offended, telling John he would come to regret the decision. After she leaves, he becomes depressed and regretting in not having listened to Max. He wished he had told Ariel the truth about the debt he owes the IRS before breaking her heart. Ariel eventually takes up with Max while John sinks into a deep depression.

Christmas Eve arrives and John is joined for dinner by Melanie and Allie. They are joined, much to John's disappointment, by Mike, whom Melanie has decided to give a second chance. John is revealed to having been not fond of him for personal reasons, implying that Mike's behavior is similar to May's in that he has been unfaithful to Melanie and has cheated on her. Unhappy to see his son-in-law and already feeling depressed due to everything else that had been going on, John expresses his displeasure with Melanie's decision to give him a second chance. Taking Ariel's warning to heart, he goes on to tell her to go through with the divorce and take a second chance with love or Melanie never be happy again. His anger finds it's outlet in Mike and John tells him off what he really think of him. He orders Mike to leave and never come back to his family again. John then storms out of the house and heads to the local bar. On his way out, John passes Jacob, who is concerned and heads over to talk to Melanie. She asks Jacob to try and get Max to talk to her father. Although Max is stunned to hear of what happened with Melanie, he refuses to go talk to John at the bar. With some arm twisting, Jacob convinces Max to let go of the grudge he had simmered on John and make peace with each other.

Later on, Max joins John at the bar where John is upset about the reunion of his daughter and son-in-law. John is also not amused by Max's presence in the bar and does not really want to listen to anything he has to say. Max tries to thank him for finding his rod and returning it to him, but John does not care and finally comes clean about why he is upset. He confronts Max about his feelings for Ariel. John is offended when he learns that Max doesn't love her and had guilt tripped him as revenge. He reveals his feelings for Ariel were real and felt it was his second chance to have a happy marriage with her. John thinks Max doesn't understands the depression he felt in having to let her go and how much it hurt both of them. In addition to that, he had been dealing with a lot of his own problems. This includes May's lack of loyalty, his debt with the IRS and his disgust for Mike in the way he mistreated Melanie. John also says it does not make any difference because Max got what he wanted and decides to head home.

Max, unsatisfied, decides to take off after John to try and set things right. Unfortunately by the time Max catches up to John, he finds him in a snow drift after having suffered a massive heart attack while walking back. He quickly helps John out by alerting a neighbor to call an ambulance and get him in the hospital. Later at the hospital, Max reconciles with John in spite of his grudge, knowing how close he came to death. Max decides to do the right thing and tells Ariel everything, including John's debt with the IRS and his near death. She rushes to his bedside, saying that she does not want to lose John because the holidays will not mean anything to her. The two reconcile as John recovers well in the hospital.

Max also decides to help John out with his tax issues. After meeting with Agent Snyder, he discovers that John originally owed $12,000 but, with interest and penalties, the number is $57,000 and the only way this can be remedied is by selling the house at auction. Angry at the arrogance of the agent, Max takes matters into his own hands by barricading John's front door shut and throwing a dead fish in Snyder's car. He then gets the newly elected mayor Jacob to get a restraining order preventing Snyder from conducting the auction, and finally he buries Snyder under a snowpile he caused to fall off of John's roof.

Winter turns to spring and everyone in Wabasha is gathered at the local church. Jacob and Melanie reunite, with Melanie being newly single after reconsidering her decision to reunite with Mike and divorcing him. Although there seems to be a somber tone to the affair, in reality it is a joyous occasion as John and Ariel get married. As a wedding gift, Max reveals to John that he was able to get his tax debt reduced to what he originally owed and that since he was able to raise the funds, he paid off the $12,000 himself. Max, however, proves that he has not fully gone soft on John and has left a little surprise in the limousine carrying the married couple away...his standby dead fish prank(as revenge for an earlier prank he had done).

The day and the film end with Max heading off to a local dance at the VFW, leaving Jacob alone in the house. As luck would have it, Melanie is also home by herself and the two decide to make an attempt to find romance with each other.



Grumpy Old Men was one of the biggest surprise hits of the year at the time of its release.[1][2] The film opened on December 25, 1993 with a weekend gross of $3,874,911. However, its numbers gradually became stronger earning a domestic total of $70 million, well above its budget of $35 million.[3]

Critical reaction[edit]

The film was met with mixed to positive reviews by critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 67 percent of 36 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.9 out of 10.[4]

Caryn James of The New York Times called the film "the kind of holiday movie a lot of people are searching for." He went on to explain that the reason this is so because "It's cheerful, it's well under two hours and it doesn't concern any major social blights, unless you think Jack Lemmon tossing a dead fish into Walter Matthau's car is cause for alarm."[5] Despite a mixed review about the film's credibility and diction, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times concluded his review by saying that "Matthau and Lemmon are fun to see together, if for no other reason than just for the essence of their beings."[6] Peter Rainer of the Los Angeles Times said, "Watching Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau sparring with each other in Grumpy Old Men is like watching an old vaudeville routine for the umpteenth time." Rainer would add, "They play off their tics and wheezes with the practiced ease of old pros but there's something a bit too chummy and self-congratulatory about it all."[7]

American Film Institute recognition:

Home video[edit]

Grumpy Old Men was first released onto DVD on June 25, 1997. On August 22, 2006, the film was made available in a DVD "Double Feature" pack along with its sequel Grumpier Old Men. On July 7, 2009, the film was made available by itself on Blu-ray. The "Double Feature" pack was later released onto Blu-ray on Feb 23, 2010 and the Blu-ray releases mark the first time both films have been available in widescreen since the LaserDisc releases. None of the Blu-ray releases contain any special features.[9]


  1. ^ "Not Grumpy or Old". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Weekend Box Office : 'Mrs. Doubtfire' Still Cleaning Up". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Grumpy Old Men (1993) - Box Office Mojo". IMDB. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 12, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Grumpy Old Men". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved $1 $2.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  5. ^ Caryn James (December 24, 1993). "Review/Film; Cheerful, Short and No Big Blights". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012. 
  6. ^ Roger Ebert (December 24, 1993). "Grumpy Old Men :: :: Reviews". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012. 
  7. ^ Peter Rainer (December 25, 1993). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Grumpy': Hearts, Flowers, Whoopee Cushions". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012. 
  8. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved June 30, 2012. 
  9. ^ Broadwater, Casey (March 17, 2010). "Grumpy Old Men / Grumpier Old Men Blu-ray Review". Retrieved September 13, 2012. 

External links[edit]