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The Odd Couple (1968)

The Odd Couple

Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon are the reason to watch The Odd Couple; their onscreen chemistry is so strong that it carried the duo through nine movies. They effortlessly slip into their respective parts of the slovenly Oscar and fastidious Felix; while Lemmon has more to do with his role as the funny man, Matthau’s straight man is wonderfully nuanced (and he gets some of the best lines).

The Odd Couple’s opening sequence is what plants it firmly in the grounds of black comedy. After his wife leaves him Felix half-heartedly makes a couple of suicide attempts. His poker night buddies are concerned after hearing of the split, and when Felix finally makes an appearance, Oscar, who is also recently divorced, invites him to move in. Oscar eventually regrets this gesture of friendship as Felix starts cleaning, cooking, and otherwise altering Oscar’s happily unkempt way of life. Comedic antics abound as the two try to survive becoming roommates.

Matthau and Lemmon are masters of the comedic craft, especially the opposites-attract buddy variety, and this is their most famous film. While some may dismiss the movie as mere entertainment, there is meaning bubbling below the surface. Any time you have the commencement of the action surrounding multiple suicide attempts it’s worth looking a bit deeper. The core of the film is in the genuine male friendships and depression surrounding divorce. Felix’s poker buddies are afraid for his well-being, and Oscar puts up with him because he shouldn’t be left alone in his current metal state. The film also asks questions on the definition of masculinity, and what it means to be a good man and a good husband in the changing times of the late ’60s. Felix is ascribed with traditionally “effeminate” qualities (cooking and cleaning) and is most comfortable in the domestic space, and Oscar with “manly” interests like poker, sports, and drinking.

It is also a nice example of a same-sex couple learning to live together and appreciate each other’s faults. Whether or not the film is attempting to code them as a homosexual or not, they are still a couple and each fulfills needs in the other that their wives had previously. They complement each other, and their lives are improved by the relationship. The BBC (or PBS in the US) show Vicious, staring Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, is the same basic premise with the major difference being the two “roommates” are out of the closet.

The Odd Couple relies heavily on the quippy dialogue, especially the one-liners, and the two main actors’ delivery. Some of the gags may seem irrelevant and quaint to modern audiences, but somehow jokes about telegrams and drive-ins still work. Reviewers are valid in criticizing the film’s “stagey” feel; it is largely confined to one or two sets, making it one of those movies that look like a filmed version of the play, and not really a screen adaptation. However, with that one caveat out of the way, The Odd Couple is an immensely entertaining film and a nice way to spend an evening.


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