Jack Lemmon: Grumpier Old Men (1995)

The Movie and Performance:

Oftentimes when a sequel is made for a film, it is produced in an effort to bank off of the success of the previous film. With a film like Grumpier Old Men, its predecessor’s success was a complete surprise to its producers, who initially treated the film more as an opportunity to reintroduce the Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau duo to a younger generation. The sequel was now riding on the nostalgia of the first movie, which asks whether the sequel was necessary to begin with. In order for a sequel to be effective, there needs to be a progression of character. With the vast majority of sequels, this is a failure. The characters typically stay within their original framework and it’s merely a continuation of their plights, opposed to being a new narrative. A sequel should also offer new components that give the narrative a renewed appearance. Most sequels succeed in this regard, applying something differing from the original to at least craft the idea of a new storyline. However, most of the time these “new” components are contrived and don’t truly offer anything to the original story and its characters. The fundamental flaw of sequels is that they typically ignore the original film and the construction of its characters while trying to be its own entity. In order for a sequel to be truly effective, it must built off the previous film and acknowledge it is a continuation of a story. Trying to be its own entity only makes the sequel appear studio manufactured with the intention of making money.

While Grumpier Old Men isn’t a bad sequel, it is evident that the film was crafted off of what made the first film successful instead of building the storyline into a new dimension for moviegoers. Both the seriousness and the charm of the original film is nonexistent in the sequel. What viewers are offered is a string of jokes and moments that come off as forced, yet despite that, these instances are still funny and enjoyable. Grumpier Old Men is a sequel that becomes immediately obvious that it was made more out of nostalgia than a genuine appreciation for the original. This is evident with the increase of jokes that are more hit-or-miss than the original’s and a plotline that wavers often. The only new component to the film is the introduction of Sophia Loren as Maria, who seeks to transition the bait shop from the previous movie into an Italian restaurant. This is the obstacle that causes Max (Walter Matthau) and John (Jack Lemmon) to work together to stop, but that quickly ends when Max realizes he has fallen in love with Maria and begins to romance her. While this seems like a new plot for this film, it in fact recycles the premise of the original movie: A new woman moves into town that captivates the main characters and ultimately one of them begins to date her. It’s the same narrative only presented in a differing circumstance.

It is also evident that producers of the film wanted to emphasize the new cast addition: Sophia Loren. Despite her fourth billing in the film, she is practically the star of the film. She does succeed in the film with effective glamour and poise, yet the film nearly negated this by desperately trying show off her still sex appeal, sometimes overemphasizing it. While this seems like a new premise to the film, Loren’s Maria is a mere copy of Ann-Margret’s Ariel from the first film. The sole difference is the milking of Loren’s Italian heritage, especially her thick Italian accent, and her sexuality. This is done at the expense of Ann-Margret, who was the moral epicenter of the original film, who reawakens Max and John from their mundane lives. Margret’s Ariel was originally the attractive, bohemian outsider who challenged the normal goings of the town. She was charming and eccentric, thereby having a genuine purpose in the movie as the outlier citizen. With the sequel, it was obvious producers wanted Sophia Loren to be the sole exotic person who differed from everyone else. As a consequence of this, Ann-Margret’s extroverted personality from the original film was watered down into the role of the domesticated wife. Her character, who was once the driving force of the original film, was reduced to a mere stock character within the sequel. The sequel could have utilized Ariel’s marriage to John as a secondary plot to the film, but producers chose to ignore this opportunity and instead presented their new marriage as-is, to which it is only given focus when it benefited the plotline between Max and Maria. It’s an unfortunate missed opportunity with this film.

Even with Jack Lemmon, his performance is minimized for the vast majority of the film. It is obvious that without him the film wouldn’t be conducive. However, with the plot of the original film sidelined from being built upon, Lemmon’s performance is more of a side character who aids in building up Matthau’s performance. Lemmon wasn’t left with much to work with in this sequel, thereby Lemmon’s presence in the film occasionally came off as a forced interjection into the narrative to keep the character relevant.  However, when Lemmon was relevant to the plot, such as when John and Max occasionally fight and have their classic back-and-forth bickering and cruel jokes played on each other, that is where it becomes evident as to why Jack Lemmon was needed within the film. The sequel’s premise of two former rivals temporarily reigniting their hatred for each other is off-and-on throughout the film, yet it maintains the comedy that made the first film successful. While the jokes don’t have the same impact as the original film, it still provides entertainment to moviegoers.

Narrative aside, what this film benefits greatly from is its star power. Even though the dynamic of their characters is greatly altered in the sequel, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau proved yet again why they were one of the greatest comedy duos. Even though the characters are now amicable towards each other and their jokes against each other are more mean-spirited than that between rivals, their chemistry still works within the film. The majority of laughs come when the duo was given the chance to work together and bounce laughs off each other. The film also at one point played an excellent homage to The Odd Couple, the second film they starred together in 1968, which then solidified their comedy teamwork to movie audiences. In a small sequence within the film, John spends some of the night at Max’s home in an effort to sleep over. Just like The Odd Couple, Matthau’s character is a slob with a tuna sandwich under the cushions of the couch and not seeming to grasp why curdled milk was bad, in contrast to John openly saying how disgusting he was. For fans of The Odd Couple, this was direct homage to Jack Lemmon’s Felix Unger’s determination for cleanliness opposed to Walter Matthau’s lifestyle of being a slob. It’s such moments like this sequence as to why the Lemmon-Matthau duo was successful. Watching the Lemmon-Matthau duo interact in a cause-and-effect scenario is where their talents lie and even in a inferior film, they build it up to being more than it actually is. Without Lemmon or Matthau, Grumpier Old Men would have been a disaster of a film. Due to them, Grumpier Old Men is a highly enjoyable guilty pleasure.

Yet the film does have a heart and that comes in the form of Burgess Meredith as Grandpa, John’s father. Meredith reprised his role as John’s sex-crazed father from the original film, but he the only actor of the entire film and cast who actually built upon his character and gave him a new dimension. In the first film, he was a simple stock character whose blunt declarations of sexual desire were hilarious to witness. In the sequel, while he still maintains that personality, audiences were given an opportunity to witness him actually romance someone, who is inadvertently Maria’s mother, Mama Ragetti (Ann Morgan Guilbert). These moments are beautifully special, reminding audiences that one is never too old to romance and take someone off their feet. Meredith is so effective in his scenes that it somewhat lessens the plotline between Matthau and Loren, who were supposed to be the central love story of the movie. However, Meredith is so endearing in this film and offers much humanity into his performance that audiences cannot help but want to see more of him. This is juxtaposed with the real-life issue that Meredith was suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s Disease during the filming of this movie and had to be gently coached before his scenes were filmed. One would never realize that when watching this film with Meredith’s scene-stealing moments and providing much needed heart and soul in a film that was somewhat manic otherwise.

Grumpier Old Men wasn’t a necessary sequel. It offered nothing new and functioned entirely off of nostalgia and its star power. Normally this would be a disastrous sequel, one that shouldn’t be watched again. Yet despite its misgiving, it is still an enjoyable film that provides laughs. The Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau dynamic maintains its comedy and Sophia Loren integrates herself into the sequel very well. The film is more of a guilty pleasure for fans of the original. As a standalone film, it’s not effective. However, if you were a fan of Grumpy Old Men, you just may find yourself enjoying Grumpier Old Men as well.

The Film:

The Performance:

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