Without question, these are major, meaty roles for Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, and there could have been little doubt that the two would work superbly together. Fact that Ernest Thompson’s 1978 play backs away from the dramatic fireworks that might have been mutes overall impact of the piece, but sufficient pleasures remain.
Fonda, a retired professor, and Hepburn arrive at their New England cottage to spend their 48th summer together. He’s approaching his 80th birthday and, while it’s clear that his wife is thoroughly familiar with his crotchety act, his mostly intentional rudeness and irascibility make life difficult for others in his vicinity.
At the half-hour point, along come daughter Jane Fonda, future son-in-law Dabney Coleman and latter’s son Doug McKeon. Coleman manages a stand-off with the elder Fonda, but Jane is clearly still terrified of her dad, suffering from lingering feelings of neglect and inferiority.
The film’s most moving interlude, a near-death scene, is saved for the end, and both Fonda (pere) and Hepburn are miraculous together here, conveying heartrending intimations of mortality which are doubly powerful due to the stars’ venerable status.
1981: Best Actor (Henry Fonda), Actress (Katharine Hepburn), Adapted Screenplay.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Supp. Actress (Jane Fonda), Cinematography, Editing, Score, Sound