During a high profile Mafia testimony case in California's Riverside County, a hired killer checks-in a hotel room near the courthouse while his next door depressed neighbor wants to commit suicide due to marital problems.
Felix's (Jack Lemmon) wife has left him and he is contemplating suicide. His friends sense his depression and one of them, Oscar (Walter Matthau), volunteers to take him in until he is fine again. The two of them are like chalk and cheese - Oscar is fun-loving, gregarious and slovenly, Felix is a shy, stay-at-home, obsessive-compulsive neat-freak. Being around Oscar brightens Felix up, but he quickly starts to irritate Oscar. Written by
Buddy comedies always come down to two things: actors and their scripts. "The Odd Couple" works because it has two endearing characters and an often hilarious and always down-to-earth script, making it one of the best odd couple films of all time -- inspiring but not surpassing movies that share its genre, such as John Hughes' "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (1987) and Martin Brest's "Midnight Run" (1988). And, in some ways, even Barry Levinson's "Rain Man" (1988), a more dramatic buddy comedy that nevertheless takes a lot of pointers from this one.
Plots always help buddy comedies, of course, but it really depends on whether the two actors -- when confined to a solitary confinement -- can interact and make the audience laugh. Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, two legendary screen comedians, can do just that. Their comedic chemistry in this film has often been mimicked by other rip-offs, such as "Grumpy Old Men." But this remains their ultimate combined-effort comedy.
This is the type of movie that is often referenced as the pinnacle buddy movie. Sure, it may not be the best, but it did inspire the entire odd couple genre, and I would definitely place it in the top five buddy comedies list if I ever made such a thing.
Felix (Jack Lemmon) has just been left by his wife, and so he goes to live with long-time poker pal Oscar (Walter Matthau), a grumpy and filthy slob who is the exact opposite of Felix, an uptight orderly man with a fetish for cleaning. In fact, he does just that in Oscar's apartment, which drives Oscar to the point of ultimate frustration. If these guys can't get along much longer, they'll just have to move along and forget their friendship. But things don't always turn out the way they appear.
Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" is full of inspired lunacy. It has some truly hilarious moments with great gags and interaction between its two lead stars, whose screen chemistry is undeniable -- there's a reason Hollywood paired Lemmon and Matthau together an uncountable number of times.
The film is lacking the humanity and sorrow of its characters that shines through in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"; there are few -- if any -- moments where the characters become so frustrated with each other that they blow up and then realize that they're not exactly how they thought. Remember the scene in the motel when Neal Page (Steve Martin) lashed out against Del Griffith (John Candy)? But after the comedy tirade ended, and as we laughed, the film took an unexpected turn when it revealed the Del character's utter hurt inside. Then we stopped laughing and we started crying.
That's lacking in "The Odd Couple," making it inferior to Hughes' comedy masterpiece, but it's a clever little film that inspired it all. Perhaps the best gag in the entire movie is one that was quite controversial at the time: Oscar finds a note next to his bed from Felix that says they're out of cereal, and the last two letters of the note are, "F U." Of course, the two letters "F U" are Felix Ungar's initials, but as Oscar implies, just imagine what he thought it meant when he first read the note.
I love comedies where you lock down a small number of people -- preferably a pair of opposites -- in a room and let their characters take over. I like when the dialogue is rich and funny and so very real. I guess I just like subtle character comedies -- overblown special effects comedies aren't always favorites of mine. "Dumb and Dumber" is one of my favorite buddy comedies, and it's not because it's crude or silly but because I like the pairing of its two stars, Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, and I like the situations they get into.
"The Odd Couple" (based on the stage play by Simon) is the odd comedy that puts a smile on your face and delights the viewer. It's a fun movie, a great comedy, one of the finest and arguably the most acknowledged buddy film of all time. I saw it years ago and I've been laughing ever since. And despite its inferiority to some of the other buddy films that followed in its path, "The Odd Couple" is a delightful character comedy that will inspire similar comedies for years to come. Lord knows it already has.
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