Max Goldman (portrayed by Walter Matthau) is the long-time rival of the irritable John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon). Max and John are neighbours in Wabasha, Minnesota, an isolated town where the residents can only talk and play darts to each other to pass the time. The arrival of Ariel Truax (Ann-Margaret), wearing a tight purple snowsuit, shakes up the usual quiet of the town. For both Max and John, Ariel’s arrival is an angelic joy, but which can have fatal consequences to old men. However, through the course of the movie, Ariel becomes the romantic pawn in Max and John’s fights, resulting in a two-dimensional character for the film set.
The subplots do not provide much substance, only involving characters such as John’s daughter Melanie (played by Daryl Hannah) and Max’s son Jacob (Kevin Pollack) along with bed scenes at a hospital on Christmas Eve.
Matthau and Lemmon come through for the movie, successfully portraying hilarious characters. The flawless tandem managed to do this because of their buoyant spirits, though their interaction is undeniably dictated by the screenplay.