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Netflix Pick: An Emotional Vacation ‘On Golden Pond’ (1981)

Today's pick is a timeless emotional family drama.

On Golden Pond is a 1981 drama about a curmudgeon and his wife who travel yearly to Golden Pond, this time having with them their estranged daughter and the son of her new boyfriend.

Today’s Netflix Pick is a punch in the heart, a classic emotional drama that is considered one of the best in the genre. Starring Henry FondaKatharine Hepburn and Jane Fonda, the movie is a touching family story that earned high praise from critics, including numerous Oscar nominations and a win for Henry Fonda, in what would be his last film appearance. It’s On Golden Pond and it’s what you’re watching tonight. Here’s why.

On Golden Pond
On Golden Pond, 1981 © IPC Films

THE STORY: Directed by Mark Rydell and based on the play of the same name by Ernest Thompson, it centers on Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda) and his wife Ethel (Hepburn), now elderly and making their yearly summer trek to a secluded New England cottage on a lake called Golden Pond. Norman is beginning to forget things and speaks of death and old age, his grumpy demeanor becoming a daily grind. Not long after arriving, their only daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) visits with her fiancé Bill (Dabney Coleman) and his thirteen-year-old son Billy (Doug McKeon). We learn that Chelsea and her father don’t much get along and she has grown tired of the relationship. Eventually, she and Bill decide they want to spend some time alone and leave Billy with Norman and Ethel, which is awkward at first, but soon a bond forms between the old man and boy, one that never existed with the father and the daughter.

On Golden Pond
On Golden Pond, 1981 © IPC Films

WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: While retaining much of the feel of a play with its few locations and small setting, the film is nevertheless a very intimate look at aging and relationships. Henry Fonda is just about the whole show here and creates a fun and yet impactful character in Norman though Hepburn is truly good as well. There’s authenticity to these people and there exists a terrific sense of history among them that lends the film a real lived-in quality. The movie knows it’s a dramatic subject yet finds plenty of ways to squeeze some good humor and personality out of the story. Emotional tugs are a plenty but well-earned and works their way to a touching ending. A human story with its heart in the right place, On Golden Pond is well worth visiting. It’s streaming on Netflix right now.

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