by Jennifer Bubriski
Tuesday Jul 6, 2004
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Many DVDs are of eagerly awaited, blockbuster movies that contain extensive special features. Others are total bombs, going straight to DVD and video in an effort to recoup studio losses. Then there is the vast category of "why bother" DVDs -- decent to good films that don’t have a compelling reason to be released on DVD. "Kotch", the single directorial effort of actor Jack Lemmon, starring the late, great Walter Matthau falls into this last category.

True, "Kotch", despite it’s unfortunately ugly-sounding title, is a sweet little movie, occasionally funny with a fine performance from Matthau. He plays an elderly man living with his son’s family. Being retired and widowed, he doesn’t have a whole lot to do and so talks people’s ears off and dotes on his toddler grandson Donald. Any other family might drop to their knees to thank their chose deity for free childcare, but Kotch (short for Joseph Kotchner, Matthau’s character) is father-in-law to the crabbiest chick alive. Kotch’s daughter-in-law pops sleeping pills and gripes to her husband about Kotch being underfoot and not being fit to take care of little Donald (right, and a drugged out mother is a much better caregiver, but anyway). Kotch eventually takes the hint and moves out.

His departure is precipitated by his friendship with an unwed pregnant teen (no, the baby’s father is not Kotch, it’s not that sort of story), Erica, who used to be Donald’s babysitter. After almost an hour, we’re finally at the most interesting part of the film, the relationship between the two and how it allows both of them to grow. Although the first part of the movie is a bit depressing (picture yourself elderly, without a partner or job and feeling completely useless and unwanted, yeah, that type of depressing), but the ending is a pleasant surprise that I won’t spoil.

All this would certainly make for a pleasant rainy afternoon if you happened upon "Kotch" on free television, but it’s just not warranted as a new-to-DVD release.

Let’s start with the fact that the movie is from 1971. Why release on DVD now? It’s not the 20th anniversary, there are no special features that provide a fresh perspective on the film, it’s not commemorating the death of a beloved film icon (Matthau dies in 2000 and Lemmon in 2001).

OK, Matthau is a genius and he was nominated for an Academy Award for this film, but this is not the finest in the pantheon of his characters. A Matthau completist might want "Kotch" for a collection, but it’s just not in the same league with "The Odd Couple", "Cactus Flower", "The Bad New Bears", or even "Grumpy Old Men". Preserving this performance in digital form is a worthy goal, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth you going out and buying the DVD.

Lemmon’s directorial touch is light and just right for the sweetness of the movie (you can also glimpse him in an uncredited cameo of a sleeping bus passenger. However, the movie does take a while to get going and could have used some trimming of sequences in the first hour.

Probably the best thing about the movie is that it reminds you to suck it up, spend time with and listen to your elderly relatives and neighbors. Instead of renting this DVD, why not call up or visit your grandparents or elderly parents or say hello to the senior citizen next door or in the supermarket checkout line?


Jennifer has an opinion on pretty much everything and is always happy to foist it upon others.


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