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Even Hollywood feels sorry for me now that I’m getting old

February 26, 2011

Plucky women, being strong, circa 1939

Moviemakers are on to me. They know I’m getting old and they’re trying to make me feel better about it. How do they do this? Well, for one thing, there seem to be more and more movies with older actresses in them. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Due to vanity, I am not ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille, but I am prepared to look deep into my soul and analyze the darkness lurking there.

The last movie I can remember that portrayed aging issues with very little sentimentality (but absolutely no sense of humor, either) was Woody Allen’s Interiors. That movie made me feel better about myself because it showed the lives of people crazier than I am, people whose neuroses foreground my sanity.

Interiors portrays the nervous breakdown of an emotionally fragile woman, an unrelentingly tasteful ice queen whose husband divorces her. He’s leaving for a woman in red, who brings renewed hope into the pale, aging midlife canvas his life has become. It is a brutal, but honest, portrayal of the ravages of aging, change, and loss, on the psyche. Although the focus of the movie is on the disintegration of his wife, played so brilliantly by Geraldine Page, the underlying theme is how we all, no matter our age, cope with changes beyond our control.

Too many movies coming out nowadays are bittersweet and romantic, which automatically raise my inner “yuck, it’s a romance” hackles. I find myself watching these movies by accident, late at night, without meaning to. I end up being forced through Hollywood manipulation to dig for a box of kleenex, because these movies are, invariably, weepers. I hate weepers. I like action adventure or murder mysteries. Only occasionally do older women show up in those movies. (I wonder why, she asked, acerbically.)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I resent distraction from my angst. I don’t want the truth sugar-coated. Aging is what it is, so give me brutal honesty over well-meaning kindness any day. I don’t need a gossamer pink cloud covering the lens of my whingeing, thank you very much.

I’m annoyed by these movies because they’re invariably about some divorced or widowed woman, convinced she’ll never find true love again now that she’s considering botox. Cue the bathos. ‘Never finding true love again’ is not my largest concern, but I guess Hollywood thinks it is, or should be.

Diane Lane, one of my favorite low-key actresses (who is also in action adventure and murder mysteries, thank god) forced me to watch Nights in Rodanthe, a heart-breaking story about a woman of a certain age who is, predictably, struggling with relationship issues. That’s not the part I take exception to. The part I take exception to is that Hollywood has found a niche category—the solo aging woman—and is now playing to her underlying fears. A number of “feel good” movies have come out recently that are apparently trying to make me feel good about things that would otherwise be upsetting, according to the rules of living, where old ladies have no life and only the young find love.

Neurotic women whining, honestly

These movies do not make me feel good for many reasons. I want them to stop trying to put a pink bubble of light around an aging Meryl Streep (It’s Complicated, Mama Mia!), an aging Diane Keaton (Something’s Gotta Give, Mama’s Boy), or any aging woman who is portrayed as simultaneously plucky, angry, cheerful, struggling, and hopeful, about her stupid love life.

These women are not “cute” as they pull the covers up over their aging breasts, while their bedmates gallantly reassure them they still have “it.” I’m being told that my life is going to be okay because this guy loves me, in spite of the extra pounds and without my makeup. He even loves me first thing in the morning.

yay.

Forgive my lack of enthusiasm, but some guy, no matter how kind and well-meaning, reassuring me that he’s okay with the fact I’m getting older (because he’s getting older too) isn’t enough to make me feel better about decaying. What I really need are improved social services, but try to find an uplifting romantic comedy about improved social services for the aging. Ha! You can’t think of one either, can you? Thought not.

Old Hollywood, immersed in the morality of 1939 America, gave us the amazing Norma Shearer in The Women. Unusual even in its time, in that there were no men in the cast, the story revolved around a woman whose marriage is threatened by one of those snarky younger salesladies I keep warning you about. The message to women has always been, keep up, old lady, because you’re in danger of losing your husband to the wiles of homewrecking (younger) harlots.

New Hollywood is much more savvy, however. Now they’re making movies for the woman who has already lost her husband and is trying, pluckily, to bounce back. Much like Bambi, these women are shown rising shakily, unsure of themselves and their abilities. Enter our Knight in Shining Armor, who stands at the New Heroine’s side, flowers in one hand, a dictionary definition of “assuaging the ego” in the other. We’ve made such progress as a species and a gender, haven’t we?

The message I keep hearing from these kinds of ‘feel good’ movies is:

1) You still look great (especially with Vaseline on the lens and rose-colored lighting)

and

2) You still deserve to be loved (because your wisdom makes up for so much, especially in France, where they value older women, according to French movies. God, I love French movies, and French actresses. Especially Catherine Deneuve, who has been my idol since the 1960s. Thank you for existing, Catherine Deneuve).

Okay, do we not know these things?

Or, more importantly perhaps, to convince them to stop making these movies, or become more like the French, I want to ask, why is Hollywood so convinced I need to be told these things? Precisely how easily assuaged do they think the underlying problem of getting old is? On a scale of 1 to 10, when measured against real-life issues like, “will I have enough money to pay someone to spoon-feed me my tapioca, and will my bones work well enough to get me down the stairs,” where do you think “I am too old and ugly to ever find love again” ranks?

Now, Interiors isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I just don’t want it to be forgotten, so watch this:

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