Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda and Katharine Hepburn star in this triple Oscar-winning family drama. An elderly couple find themselves looking after the teenage son of their daughter’s new partner, bringing to the surface long-buried family resentments
This was Henry Fonda’s final film, and the only one he made with daughter Jane. Appropriately then, it’s a bittersweet tale of inter-generational conflict best viewed with a handy hanky. The more emotionally manipulative moments are easily overridden by great performances from Oscar-winners Hepburn and Fonda Snr, who prove there’s no substitute for experience.
Adapted by Ernest Thompson (the third Oscar is his) from his own Broadway play, the story follows seventysomethings Ethel and Norman Thayer (Hepburn and Henry Fonda) as they spend summer at their New England cottage. Also present is their daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda), her new partner Bill Ray (Coleman) and his teenage son (McKeon). When Chelsea and Bill Ray fly off to Europe, it falls to Ethel and Norman to look after the kid. Norman gets along famously with the boy, and their friendship throws into sharp relief the disappointment Norman feels at his selfish daughter.
Though Fonda Snr gets to swear like a trooper, at other times the dialogue feels contrived. The film’s real strength is the way it deals with old age. Hepburn, in particular, finds the right note early on, and her attitude to her husband is an affecting mix of love and exasperation. No fireworks, but a thoughtful character piece brought to life by two screen legends.
Despite a career spanning five decades, this was the only film for which Henry Fonda won a Best Actor Oscar. Apart from a couple of uncredited appearances alongside son Peter, it’s also the only film in which he took a major role opposite one of his children.
Wanna dance? Or would you rather just suck face? – Norman (Henry Fonda) sweet-talks wife Ethel.

Katharine Hepburn as Ethel Thayer
Henry Fonda as Norman Thayer Jr.
Jane Fonda as Chelsea Thayer Wayne
Doug McKeon as Billy Ray
Dabney Coleman as Bill Ray
William Lanteau as Charlie Martin
Christopher Rydell as Sumner Todd
Director: Mark Rydell
Producer: Bruce Gilbert
Writer: Ernest Thompson
Photographer: Billy Williams
Composer: Dave Grusin
USA | 109 minutes | 1981