John Gustafson: Hello, moron.
It centers on two, well, grumpy old men, John Gustafson (Lemmon) and Max Goldman (Matthau) who've been neighbors for over 50 years and bickering for most of it, all the while ice fishing on the local lake and putting up with their kids (John's daughter Melanie, played by Daryl Hannah, and Max's son Jacob, played by Kevin Pollak) and John's nonagenarian father (Burgess Meredith). Then the pair's lives are turned upside down by a new neighbor named Ariel (Ann-Margret), and their old feud goes all out to try and win her hand.
The film was successful enough to revive the Lemmon-Matthau team for a string of comedies in the mid-90s, including sequels to both this film and The Odd Couple, as well as The Grass Harp and their final collaboration Out To Sea.note
Not to be confused with the British talk show of the same name.
This film and its sequel provide examples of:
- Ambiguously Jewish: It's never explicitly stated that Max is Jewish, but Goldman is a common Jewish name, and he occasionally peppers his speech with Yiddish words. Though he celebrates Christmas, which adds to the confusion.
- Brick Joke: The dead fish in Max's truck.
- Cut a Slice, Take the Rest: Variant - John brings beer to his dad at his ice shanty. Grandpa takes one out of the six-pack and hands it to John, then takes the rest inside and shuts the door.
- DecemberDecember Romance: While Jack Lemmon had 16 years on Ann-Margret, and she is very well preserved, Ariel is past middle age and John is retired.
- Dirty Old Man:
- Grandpa Gustafson had more Unusual Euphemisms for sex than your average Fark thread. In other words, when it comes to women and for an old man, he has an abnormally perverted obsession with sex, even revealed clearly just by his kinky remarks.
- The outtakes during the credits roll highlights this, with his using fictional Hawaiian islands as a means of seduction (e.g. "Imakindakinky")
- Also, his advice to John regarding Ariel:Grandpa: You mount the woman, son. Otherwise, send her over to my place. Heh heh.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Max destroys John's ice shanty because he thought John was stealing Ariel away from him like he did with May (who John says was no good for him anyway).
- Exact Words: John kisses Ariel after a nice evening at his house, surprising her and himself. She backs off and says it's time for bed, then heads for the door. After berating himself ("Dumb, dumb, dumb.") he follows her to apologize:John: Ariel, I... *sees her locking the door* I thought you said...Ariel: I said, "It's time for bed."
- "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: Okay, so it's a heart attack and he ends up surviving, but it still counts.Max: John, are you dead?
John: No. And I don't wanna die looking at your ugly face.
- Foreshadowing: At the beginning of the movie, the two talk about what are comfortable ways to die. John comments that strokes are terrible and he'd rather have a cardiac arrest any day. Guess what happens towards the end of the movie. He lives through it, however.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: As much as Max hates John, he's still merciful enough not to rat him out to IRS agent Elliot Snyder. So how does he cover for John? By describing him as a totally insane psychopath who constantly hangs around men's strip joints when he's on his medication, and walks around talking to trees when he's not. While John is listening nearby. After Snyder leaves, John expresses his disgust to Max, which only amuses Max all the more.
- Granola Girl: Ariel, who replaced her TV's screen with a fishbowl and used to teach art at Berkeley.
- Grumpy Old Man: Many of them, naturally. Max and John are the main ones, but there's also Chuck and John's father.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Both Max and John are immediately taken with the redheaded newcomer Ariel.
- Hilarious Outtakes: The first film has an epic blooper reel before the credits, including a great stinger:Walter Matthau (in a bathtub): If I had know there was gonna be a nude scene in this picture, I would've asked for another million.
- Hollywood Heart Attack: John has one to start out the third act, outside in the snow, all alone.
- Hurricane of Euphemisms: The outtakes feature take after take of Burgess Meredith making different euphemisms for Chuck getting some action.
- Intimidating Revenue Service: The subplot involves the IRS repossessing John's house to pay back taxes.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Ariel.
- Mood Whiplash: Does a serious turn when Chuck dies.
- Minnesota Nice: Averted, with the titular duo spending all of their time insulting each other and pulling cruel pranks at one another's expense. Or maybe just played with, as by the end they're shown to be Vitriolic Best Buds.
- Nice Jewish Boy: Max's son Jacob is this trope, he is running for Mayor and the Straight Man to his Father regarding the pranks Max and John pull on one another, and is quite the stand up guy.
- Only Sane Man: Chuck, at least some of the time.I am not talking about sex, you dummies!
- Outliving One's Offspring: John had another son named Brian, who was killed in the Vietnam war.
- Refuge in Audacity: Ariel introduces herself to John in this way, stealing his mail, inviting herself over to his place, all to find out more about him. She gets away with it because she's gorgeous.
- The Reveal: John has a heart attack and is very weak in the hospital talking to Ariel. That's the last we see of him, up until the end, where Jake, Max, and John's dad talk reverently about him outside of a church, leading the viewer to believe he's dead. But then they pull off their coats inside to reveal tuxes; what the viewer believes is John's funeral is actually his wedding to Ariel.
- Shipper on Deck:
- As much as he fights with Max, John seems perfectly okay with the idea of Max's son liking his (John's) daughter. Although that might just be because he hates Melanie's estranged husband, and knows that Jacob is a genuinely nice guy.
- Max is doing the same thing to Jacob about Melanie.
- Silver Fox: Ariel is played by Ann-Margret, who was a very attractive 52 at the time.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Several examples, but the crowning one has to be a cheery little polka number going on after Max loses his beloved Green Hornet fishing pole under the ice, and searches despondently (and hopelessly) for it. Naturally, John later fishes it up and anonymously returns it to him.
- Another standout example is the "getting-spruced-up" montage after John and Max both decide to pursue Ariel in earnest. Along with lots and lots of plaid, we get treated to the sight of Max scouring himself in the bathtub and literally spit-shining his shoes... to the strains of "I'm Too Sexy."
- Irving Berlin's "Heat Wave" crops up several times: Ella Fitzgerald's rendition plays over the (quite snowy) opening credits, but the characters sing a few lines in later scenes.
- Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: 5'5" Kevin Pollak gets together with 5'10" Darryl Hannah.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Max and his first wife, Amy. John pokes fun at Max for being ugly and said that Jacob is lucky to inherit his Mom's looks rather than his father, otherwise he wouldn't be on the ballot for Mayor.
- Villainy-Free Villain: Snyder of the IRS is just doing his job, trying to collect back taxes John owes. And (off-screen) he is actually fairly reasonable - Jacob talks him into waiving the late fees if the original amount owed is paid. Doesn't stop Max from insulting him and playing a few hilarious practical jokes on him.Max: Hey, Snyder, why don't you do the world a favor? Pull your lip over your head and swallow!Snyder: Ha ha! (under his breath) Asshole.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Despite their incessant jabs at each other, John and Max are actually really old friends.
- You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Max calls John by his surname through the whole film. The only time he calls him John is at the climax when he sees John in the snow having a heart attack.