This very appealing drama is set in the quiet town of Sweetwater, Florida, where two lonely old men meet just in the nick of time. They add a little something special to each other's lives.
Frank, played by Richard Harris, is a feisty and cantankerous former sea captain. This retiree has been divorced four times. He aggressively attacks each day and yearns for an audience for his antics. Helen, the landlady at his seaside apartment complex, has lost interest in his past escapades especially the one about the day he wrestled Ernest Hemingway in 1938.
Frank barges his way into the routinized and very placid life of Walter, played by Robert Duvall. He meets him in the park where this Cuban bachelor is sitting on a bench working on a crossword puzzle and munching on his second bacon sandwich of the day. Walter used to be a barber and in his soft-spoken way, he considers himself to be a gentleman. The only soul in the world who pays any attention to him is Elaine, the waitress at the restaurant he visits every morning.
It's easy to see why director Randa Haines liked this screenplay by Steve Conrad. As in her previous films, Children of a Lesser God and The Doctor, two very dissimilar people are thrown together. They resist connecting and sparks fly but in the end they enrich each other's existence.
Frank's zest for life rouses Walter from his stupor. Soon he's off to see the fireworks with his new friend on a bicycle built for two. A peaceful fishing excursion turns into a skinny dipping spree. It's never too late to let loose.
In the film's most tender and poignant moment, Walter gives the grizzled Frank a haircut and a shave. This new look enables him to land a job at a local discount movie theater. Frank adds some adventure to Walter's life, and he helps Frank see that caring for someone else is not confining.
Writer and poet Eugene Kennedy has observed: "Friendship breaks through a person's shell so that he can taste and experience life more fully." That's exactly what is portrayed so beautifully in Wrestling Ernest Hemingway.