Since 1966, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon have collaborated eleven times (remarkably, over half of those films have been in the last seven years). However, most of their recent work has hearkened back to their cantankerous relationship in 1968’s The Odd Couple. Grumpy Old Men and Out to Sea were both sequels in a way, if not in name, so it doesn’t seem like it has been thirty years since the original Odd Couple graced the screen. But now, our old friends Oscar and Felix have returned, a little more vulgar and a whole lot older than before.
The old roommates have gone their separate ways, and haven’t seen (or thought much about) each other since 1981. But, time hasn’t changed them. Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) is still a human pigsty, and Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon) is still compulsively antiseptic.
Both have gone through failed marriages, and the catalyst that brings them back together is the upcoming marriage between their children: Felix’s daughter Hanah (Lisa Waltz) and Oscar’s son Bruce (Jonathan Silverman). The wedding is going to be held in a town about two hours north of L.A. The two men plan to meet, rent a car and drive to the town…but with these two, things aren’t going to be that simple.
Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar were never the most complex of characters. Each was simply a single personality trait taken to the extreme. What makes their characters come alive is the vibrant chemistry between Matthau and Lemmon. The two actors simply work well together. Whether they are bickering or expressing their idiosyncrasies, it’s a joy to watch them together.
This time, they’re helped out by a good script (by Neil Simon), which, although it formulaically relies on a road-trip structure, has a few genuine surprises. The script’s biggest weakness is an unnecessary coda which seems to exist only to draw allusions to the original Odd Couple.
One problem that arises with The Odd Couple II is the age of the protagonists. They seem like they’re about 10-15 years too old for the roles. Seeing them flirt around with Christine Baranski and Jean Smart is like watching the antics of two dirty old men. And when we meet with their kids, the men seem more like grandfathers than fathers. While not outside the realm of possibility, the film does seem to be pushing the envelope.
Still, it is funny, and when that’s true, most other considerations are secondary. It may not be a classic like the original, but it sure is enjoyable to revisit these old friends.