Cinema

We are big movie fans here at the Silver Century Foundation, but the silver screen hasn’t been overly kind to older characters. Hollywood’s ageist bent is easily exposed when older adults are depicted as comic sidekicks or stereotyped grandparents—when there is no role for them at all. Happily, more and more filmmakers around the world are tackling the subject of growing older with honesty, insight and beauty. Pete Croatto takes a look at films that were selected by SCF because they examine age and aging in ways that challenge us to think about our own views of growing older.

  • Learning to Drive Posted in: Cinema, Friendships, Later Life Quests, Midlife

    2015, USA/UK, 90 min.

    Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley star in this touching comedy-drama about taking control of your life in your 50s. Sheltered, affluent book critic Wendy ends up in the NYC taxi of Darwan moments after she is unceremoniously dumped by her husband in a restaurant. When the working-class cabbie, a turban-wearing, Sikh immigrant, returns the next day with the separation papers, he’s not in his cab, but in a car with a “Driving Lessons” sign affixed. Wendy, who cannot drive, spots the sign—and a chance to gain some control over her life. The calm, sage Darwan is the perfect tonic for Wendy’s frazzled state. As Darwan teaches Wendy to drive, she shows him how to embrace the arrival of his wife, a woman he has never met, who throws his work-centric life for a loop. The beauty of Isabel Coixet’s drama is that it treats the main characters as clear-thinking, experienced adults. To solve their personal problems, Darwan and Wendy must look inward as well as to each other. The emotional authenticity will enlighten and reassure audiences, and Clarkson and Kingsley’s genuine, deeply felt performances only reinforce those qualities.  

     

  • Two Weeks Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Families

    2006, USA, 102 min.

    When cancer-ridden Anita Bergman (Sally Field) submits to hospice care, her four adult children (Ben Chaplin, Tom Cavanagh, Julianne Nicholson and Glenn Howerton) reunite in suburban North Carolina to help temporarily and to say goodbye permanently. As the days yawn toward grim inevitability, they all—including Anita, who is not ready to go—peel off their cultivated facades and reassess their priorities. This is especially true for Keith (Chaplin), who keeps tamping down his emotions, and Barry (Cavanagh), whose career rules his life. Two Weeks poignantly reminds us to truly know our family (especially our parents and grandparents) before time passes into lifelong regret. Thankfully, director-writer Steve Stockman coats the proceedings with ample humor to make his movie uplifting for multiple generations. 

  • Youth in Oregon Posted in: Arts, Caregiving, Cinema, Families, Mortality

    2016, USA, 105 min.

    Retired physician Raymond (Frank Langella) has had enough. He’s tired of burdening his family. He’s tired of having old age chip away at his virility. And he can’t stomach the idea of another heart surgery that will barely hold off encroaching death. So, at his 80th birthday celebration, Raymond makes an announcement: he’s traveling to Oregon the next day to be euthanized. In the hope of buying time, Raymond’s harried son-in-law (Billy Crudup) agrees to drive Raymond and his boozy wife (Mary Kay Place) the 3,000 miles to his eventual resting place. What begins as an indulgence grows increasingly serious as more family members get recruited in a cross-country salvation mission. Though the tone wobbles, Langella’s sturdy, humane performance remains a balm, as does the movie’s message: no matter what stage of life you’re muddling through, fixing the present is necessary to embrace the future you desire. 

     

  • If You’re Not in the Obits, Eat Breakfast Posted in: Cinema, Documentaries

    2017, USA, 86 min.

    The title of this documentary serves as a guiding principle for Carl Reiner, the 95-year-old comedy legend, who gets thrown for a loop when he sees himself in the accompanying photo for the Los Angeles Times’ obituary of actress Polly Bergen. That scare gets Reiner thinking. Every time he turns on the computer—Reiner writes every day and has penned five books since hitting 90—people of advanced age are doing amazing things. What’s the secret? What ensues is a charming, effervescent series of profiles featuring nonagenarians doing everything from one-man shows (Kirk Douglas, still vital after a stroke) to teaching yoga (the endearing and spritely Tao Porchon-Lynch). The mixture of everyday folks and famous people will inspire and educate all viewers. Thriving in old age cannot be acquired with money or status. It has everything to do with having the right attitude and being comfortable with yourself. 

  • Fireflies in the Garden Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Families

    2008, USA, 120 min.

    Successful writer Michael (Ryan Reynolds) returns home, with great reluctance, for his mother’s college graduation. Her warmth and compassion were bright spots in Michael’s otherwise tumultuous childhood, which has now become thinly disguised material for his work. When an accident turns this joyous occasion into a tragedy, the young man must confront his past, namely his contentious relationship with his despotic father (Willem Dafoe), an academic whose literary success pales in comparison to his son’s. The longer Michael stays, the more he grasps the importance of releasing his anger instead of using it to try to settle an impossible debt. The ability to improve the now—a lesson all ages can appreciate—runs through this empathetic ensemble drama that includes Julia Roberts, Emily Watson and Carrie-Anne Moss. 

  • Elsa & Fred Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Friendships, Mortality, Single, Widowed or Divorced

    2014, USA, 96 min.

    Recently widowed and exhausted by life, 80-year-old Fred (Christopher Plummer) moves to a new apartment, which might as well be a tomb. His next-door neighbor is the buoyant Elsa (Shirley MacLaine), who is impetuous and prone to spinning tall tales. Fred whiles away his days reading the newspaper, basically waiting to die. Then, at Elsa’s insistence, they get to know each other. As they grow closer, a rejuvenated Fred discovers Elsa’s sad secret—and how he can give her one last memorable, cinema-inspired thrill. This charming romantic comedy provides a valuable lesson: there is no age limit for falling in love and opening ourselves to new experiences. The film’s gentle charisma, plus splendid performances by Plummer and MacLaine, allow us to forgive the excessive number of characters and the film’s frequently jumbled focus. Based on a 2005 Spanish film.  

     

  • The Old Man and the Sea Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Mortality

    1958, USA, 86 min.

    In pre-Castro Cuba, a battered fisherman (Spencer Tracy in an Oscar-nominated performance) still sets out to sea for work. Every day he returns, emptyhanded and exhausted, to a bed with yesterday’s newspaper as a blanket. Forget being a relic; the old man is a laughingstock among his younger, more successful peers. The cycle of boredom shatters one clear day when he catches a mammoth fish—which cannot be reeled in. For days, the old man battles the fish and the elements, his thoughts his only companion. The production values of the film itself have not aged well, but the theme of the man’s unrelenting struggle to reclaim his self-respect is timeless. The battle between man and nature is an inspiring metaphor: regardless of our age, we keep fighting. Based on Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel. 

  • The Leisure Seeker Posted in: Arts, Caregiving, Cinema, Long-Lasting Marriages, Mortality

    2017, Italy/France, 112 min.

    To the shock and consternation of their family and friends, Ella and John Spencer (Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland) unexpectedly leave town in the Leisure Seeker, their ancient, long-retired RV. Officially, the trip from Massachusetts to Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West is so John can visit his literary idol’s home before his faculties fade away. As the bickering couple steer through campsites and diners, the depth of their relationship emerges, as does Ella’s reason for taking a seemingly impromptu trip. The movie is a striking, bittersweet ode to living life on your own terms—even if conventional wisdom begs you to stick close to home. Sutherland and Mirren, as you would expect, are outstanding, portraying the sweet highs and combative lows of a couple who can’t stand each other but can’t bear to be apart. Even better, their portrayals serve as an endorsement for marriage and for living the golden years with unabashed dignity. Ella and John’s final chapter takes place on America’s open roads, not in the sterile orderliness of a nursing home, and that gives the movie inspirational heft. 

  • Death of a Salesman Posted in: Cinema, Families, Midlife, Mortality

    1985, USA, 136 min.

    This staple of high school English classes has remained relevant for decades, and with very good reason. The story is set squarely in the late 1940s/early 1950s, but the theme of regret and unfulfilled promise, and how they can fester and destroy everyone in their path, remains unchanged. Arthur Miller’s mesmerizing portrait of washed-up salesman Willy Loman’s denial-fueled breakdown—the job that’s defined his life for 63 years is over; his grown sons are confirmed losers; the present is so bleak he keeps retreating to the past—is really a battle to leave this world with a shred of impact and relevance. With Dustin Hoffman, however, the old play feels downright electric. His work as Loman is a journey through the emotional spectrum, a feat you behold in slack-jawed awe. The great actor is matched by Kate Reid as his all-knowing yet enabling wife. In early roles, John Malkovich and Stephen Lang are terrific as his wayward, hapless adult sons. There isn’t one wobbly aspect, one untrue moment, in this epic tale of small, defeated people feeling their way through their middle years.

  • Truman Posted in: Cinema, Friendships, Mortality

    2015, Spain/Argentina, 108 min.

    Most films about terminal illness focus on the high dramatics, the withering hero finding clarity on a deathbed or lingering in a somberly lit nursing home. Here’s a special film that espouses living a full life with an unforgettable, potent dignity, and that features none of those hoary trappings. Tomás (Javier Cámara) travels from Canada to visit his old friend, Julián (Ricardo Darín), a veteran actor living in Madrid. The unannounced trip comes with a gravity both men try to downplay: Julian is dying from cancer and has stopped treatment. The two friends spend four days hanging out, a good portion of which involve finding a new home for Julian’s beloved dog, Truman. The movie’s lack of to-do is its strongest asset, as we see Julian’s last push to make his life whole, whether it’s connecting with his estranged son or admonishing an old colleague for not saying “Hello” to avoid discomfort. Throughout, Truman serves as not only a symbol for resolution but a token of love between the two men. This is a wonderful, inspirational movie, which won the Spanish equivalent of an Oscar and a slew of other international awards. It will resonate with all who have considered their mortality. In Spanish with English subtitles.

  • Our Souls at Night Posted in: Cinema, Friendships, Single, Widowed or Divorced

    2017, USA, 103 min.

    In a sleepy Colorado town, widow Addie (Jane Fonda) visits her withdrawn, widower neighbor Louis (Robert Redford) with a proposition: they should sleep together. Not to have sex but for the company. Soon, the almost-strangers step into a conversational rhythm that unexpectedly blooms. Ritesh Batra’s adaptation of Kent Haruf’s novel wraps us up in Addie and Louis’ story by not rushing a thing. Every night, these two sheltered, shattered souls relearn intimacy and trust, so the film, by favoring a slow and steady pace over quick and easy dramatics, gives every interaction heft. The little gestures—holding a hand, a head on a shoulder—feel meaningful as a result. Redford and Fonda, acting together for the first time since 1979’s The Electric Horseman, deliver understated, lived-in performances that wash over us. Our Souls at Night revels in the realities and pleasures of awakening, destroying the myth that rebirth is only a young person’s game. Older viewers will cherish that message; younger viewers will have their eyes opened.  

  • Bonneville Posted in: Cinema, Families, Friendships

    2006, USA, 93 min.

    When her husband dies, Arvilla (Jessica Lange) wants to scatter his ashes, as he’d wished. But because he never updated his will, her bitter, greedy stepdaughter (Christine Baranski) is his heir, and she plays hardball: if she doesn’t get her father’s ashes for his funeral, she will sell Arvilla’s house. The new widow is placed in a particularly painful midlife crisis: does she submit to the wishes of others or honor the person her husband really was? She decides to make the best of a bad situation, enlisting her two friends—straight-arrow Carol (Joan Allen) and spirited Margene (Kathy Bates)—to take the trip from Idaho to California for the funeral. When they miss their flight, they continue in Arvilla’s late husband’s cherry red Bonneville. As the journey unfolds, Arvilla, buoyed by her friends, grows more determined to stay true to herself. Bonneville is an inspiring reminder for viewers of all ages to take chances, especially if doing so preserves their—and their loved ones’—integrity. Rebellion is not just the domain of the young. 

  • Coco Posted in: Cinema, Families

    2017, USA, 105 min.

    Another animated gem from Pixar that will enchant anyone with a pulse. In rural Mexico, young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of playing the guitar, an act his family of shoemakers forbids. Through a series of accidents, Miguel lands up in the mythical Land of the Dead, where he meets his long-departed relatives and a slick-talking musician (Gael García Bernal), who helps him piece together the past. The pallet of colors employed here is sumptuous, and the overall visuals are dazzling. This feast is complemented by a heart-warming appreciation for elders, represented by Miguel’s great-grandmother, whose silence hides a past that Miguel’s investigative skills and love unlock. Yet what makes Coco a true family film is how both the older and younger generations learn and benefit from each other, whether it’s Miguel celebrating his country’s musical roots or his relatives learning to embrace their past through Miguel’s sheer determination to be heard. Coco proves, again, that Pixar’s filmmakers remain unparalleled at achieving an emotional resonance to go with artistic grandeur. 

  • Fireflies in the Garden Posted in: Cinema, Families

    2008, USA, 120 min.

    Successful writer Michael (Ryan Reynolds) returns home, with great reluctance, for his mother’s college graduation. Her warmth and compassion were bright spots in Michael’s otherwise tumultuous childhood, which has now become thinly disguised material for his work. When an accident turns this joyous occasion into a tragedy, the young man must confront his past, namely his contentious relationship with his despotic father (Willem Dafoe), an academic whose literary success pales in comparison to his son’s. The longer Michael stays, the more he grasps the importance of releasing his anger instead of using it to try to settle an impossible debt. The ability to improve the now—a lesson all ages can appreciate—runs through this empathetic ensemble drama that includes Julia Roberts, Emily Watson and Carrie-Anne Moss. 

  • Redwood Highway Posted in: Cinema, Families, Retirement, Voices/Views

    2013, USA, 90 min.

    Prickly Marie (Shirley Knight) has reluctantly settled into comfortable isolation in a retirement community, content to live a life of cantankerous indifference. Then her soon-to-be-wed granddaughter leaves a voice-mail message, disinviting her from the wedding—and from her life. A humbled Marie decides to go to the wedding anyway, lacing up her hiking shoes and walking the 80-mile trip via Oregon’s busy and bucolic Redwood Highway. The winding odyssey allows Marie to meet kind souls—a widowed woodworker, a tavern owner/single mother—but, more importantly, to make amends for the present and settle the past. Sampling the good in the world permits Marie to open herself up to life. It doesn’t have to be hard all the time. Knight’s spirited and vulnerable performance is a marvel and far from the movie’s only asset. Director/cowriter Gary Lindgren’s unabashed belief in the kindness of strangers and in older people’s ability to keep growing creates an infectious character study that will delight everyone.

  • All About Eve Posted in: Cinema, Midlife, Retirement

    1950, USA, 138 min.

    One of the true classics of American cinema. This backstage drama is as tart and smart and relevant as it was during its initial release in 1950. Wide-eyed ingenue Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) becomes the assistant to aging Broadway superstar Margo Channing (Bette Davis), but Channing’s circle of friends senses a radioactive presence slinking into their insular world. Eve schemes and backstabs her way from understudy to star, using her youthful energy as a cudgel. But she is blithely unaware that the life she craves is cynical and bitter—the antithesis of her exuberant façade. Director-writer Joseph Mankiewicz’s drama is more than a shrewd showbiz satire. One of cinema’s first depictions of ageism, the film tells us that experience is disregarded, and yet the glow of youth is but a shallow, short-lived weapon. The movie predicts this story won’t end with Margo and Eve. Sadly, more than 60 years later, it’s true. Nominated for 14 Academy Awards and the winner of six, including best picture.

  • Aquarius Posted in: Cinema, Midlife

    2016, Brazil/France (subtitled), 146 min.

    Sonia Braga delivers a wonderful performance as a widowed 65-year-old who is being pressured by her adult children, as well as developers, to leave her longtime home, a sunny, spacious but shabby, beachside apartment in Recife, Brazil. The reason she stays—though common sense dictates she should bolt—provides the movie’s philosophical backbone: the apartment is a metaphor for her soul. It’s where she is truly herself and at peace. To her children, Clara is the stubborn matriarch; to her friends, she’s a vibrant, bawdy presence. To the world, she’s a veteran music critic anchored to the past. Everyone is correct. Everyone is wrong. The great joy of Kleber Mendonça Filho’s terrific, challenging drama is seeing Clara constantly defy easy categorization. It turns out that self-growth does not have an expiration date.

  • Iris Posted in: Cinema, Documentaries

    2014, USA, 79 min.

    For those who believe our 90s are the age for gracefully fading away, meet Iris Apfel, who is live and in living color in this documentary. As was his wont, the late, revered Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens), then 87 years old, follows the New York City interior designer as she goes about her life’s tasks—and he offers us a fascinating life lesson. She haggles for bracelets in Harlem and searches for treasures at a swap meet in Florida. In her professional world, one that peddles luxury and ease—from highfalutin soirees to the vapidity of home shopping television—Apfel, with her wagon-wheel eyeglasses and crayon-inspired wardrobe, has always been herself. With short interviews and footage, Maysles reveals Apfel’s curiosity and openness, and the little pleasures—like making her husband (and Maysles) a cup of tea—that feed her soul. Iris is less a documentary than a filmed blueprint for living a fulfilling life.

  • Last Chance Harvey Posted in: Cinema, Comedy Drama, Midlife

    2008, USA, 93 min.

    Struggling American jingle writer Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) travels abroad for his estranged daughter’s wedding, a happy occasion that quickly makes him miserable. He’s humiliated by his ex-wife (Kathy Baker), shunned by the bride-to-be (Liane Balaban) and ends up losing his job. Stuck in Heathrow and desperate for a friendly ear, Harvey starts chatting with a lovelorn airport worker (Emma Thompson), who has also reached her limit. The two hit it off and spend an impromptu and redemptive night together in London. This bubbly ode to second chances is buoyed by the terrific performances of Hoffman and Thompson. The Oscar winners bring dignified charm to writer-director Joel Hopkins’ short, sweet and overlooked romantic drama.

  • Tea with Mussolini Posted in: Cinema, Friendships

    1999, Italy/UK, 117 min.

    In fascist Italy, a group of older, artistic-leaning expats—one of whom (Maggie Smith) insufferably flouts her musty political connections—enjoy their sun-drenched lifestyle. However, the party is winding down: Benito Mussolini is growing increasingly combative. Years pass, and the once-comfortable American and English women find themselves hassled by troops and, eventually, imprisoned. Their chance at freedom may depend on a boy with a sentimental connection to these prisoners. Loosely based on director Franco Zeffirelli’s life and on a group of women known as the Scorpioni, the film does more than serve as a forum for several wonderful actresses, such as Smith, Joan Plowright, Cher and Lily Tomlin. It’s an inspirational, historical reminder that adaptation and strength don’t expire with age, even when war literally comes to your neighborhood.