Park your brains, oldsters, this is a film of charm, creaking style and lame jokes. And it knows it, and sambas its way though them with a wink and a clumsy guffaw. I loved it for an hour, then grew deeply weary, had a nice sleep, then enjoyed the ending. Keeping the higher brain functions at bay is exhausting, but the effort rewards you with the final, gloriously knowing shared screen time of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau – Out to Sea.
This isn’t as good as the Grumpy Old Men films, so prepare yourselves. This time out the grumps are brothers-in-law, the woman who joined them long dead. Lemmon is the widower: well-to-do, refined, inconvenienced by his rubbish gambler and shocking lech of a friend. Matthau is the friend: presumptuous, lugubrious, cheeky and charming. Matthau gets Lemmon to join him on a cruise without mentioning the full story: they are dance partners to the attendant crumbly ladies. Lemmon can dance, Matthau can’t. Which led to my favourite montage of the former teaching the latter in their one-floor-off-the-ocean-bed room. There’s a whiff of improv from the masters of old Hollywood, topped off with Donald O’Connor (charm set to Twinkle Factor 5) and Hal Linden (smarm set to False Tan Factor 10) as their fellow dancers. Together they are victimized by the dance master, Brent Spiner as Gil Godwyn: Englishly uptight, bad-tempered, bluesy, controlling and a million venal parsecs from his innocent Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Old Jack was rather enchanted by these cast members, but never warmed to Spiner who I couldn’t forgive for this unfamiliar chill.
You’re wondering about the plot…Um…Lemmon and Matthau have to stay employed or they get charged for the trip, which is many thousands. And they fall in love with two lucky ladies. There’s no grandiose story here, just sweet and funny moments. And some remarkably lucky gambling.
Matthau pursues Dyan Cannon (wife number four and lasting proof that Cary Grant was straight) who is onboard with her mother, Elaine Stritch. The former made old Jack tense: she plays a kind of sexiness that is bad for her age, attractive to Matthau’s and weirdly conspiratorial as a result. That said, the two have a lovely chemistry when she laughs with cheering spontaneity at a couple of his remarks, possible ad libs. Stritch is wonderful in every scene: sparky, caustic and crackerjack-funny. Scenes with the three of them are a smirky joy.
Lemmon, as ever the gentler soul, missing his wife, but knowing he must move on, bonds with a widow on the ship. Gloria de Haven plays Vivian. A stunner in films of the 1940s and early ’50s, she carries herself and the relationship with an easy grace that made old Jack yearn for them to get it together. But there are complications…
I’ll not pretend that this film is top-notch – it really isn’t. There are scenes, stunts and plot points that fall completely flat, but others that charm and wrench a guffaw from old lungs. Spiner being used by the ship’s owner (Rue McClanahan – a Golden Girl – has Data…imagine that planning meeting) is a particular high, especially his shock as he staggers away. Oh yes, male rape as comedy…
Watch Out to Sea if you have a low moment one afternoon. Dump those brains in your denture jar and get ready to enjoy proper charm between old movie vets (Lemmon and Matthau are lovely, Stritch and Spiner bring spice, O’Connor gets to dance, so… worth it). And if you’re okay with the action high being a boat set against dodgy green-screen work and a flare lighting up the preposterous plot, well, it’s for you.
Here’s to the last hurrah of the grumpy old men.
You’ll have to buy it, mind. Go iTunes.