- Danny Collins Posted in: Based on True Stories, Families, Midlife
2015, USA, 106 min.
The winning, therapeutic Danny Collins teaches us something: namely, that the best things in a long life are usually the least glamorous. Al Pacino portrays the title character—an amalgam of Neil Diamond and Rod Stewart—who long ago abandoned creative integrity for pop-star prancing and all of its goodies—such as a much-younger fiancée, who doesn’t love him, and a mansion with an elevator. When Danny’s manager and best friend (Christopher Plummer, in another fine performance) gives him his birthday gift—a letter John Lennon wrote to a young, confused Danny—the star is struck. What if he had gotten that letter four decades ago? Read more…
- Love Is Strange Posted in: Later Life Quests, Midlife
2014, USA, 94 min.
Longtime lovers Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) finally get married, a joyous occasion that loses its luster in a hurry. George’s new status causes him to be fired from the parochial school where he is a music teacher. The pair must sell their New York City apartment, which forces them apart and puts them in the middle of other people’s strange lives. Molina and Lithgow, as you would expect, excel in the lead roles. Director/cowriter Ira Sachs (Married Life, Keep the Lights On) approaches the material without an ounce of sentimentality and with tons of directness, which makes the proceedings all the more heartbreaking. There is no finish line in life. For some, that’s an exhilarating concept; for others, it’s simply exhausting.
- It Runs in the Family Posted in: Comedy Drama, Families
2003, USA, 109 min.
Meet the Grombergs, an upper-class, New York City, three-generation family that is slowly falling apart. Alex Gromberg (Michael Douglas) is an attorney enduring a midlife crisis where he’s flirting with idealism and infidelity. His father, Mitchell (Kirk Douglas), faces a world where he is becoming irrelevant. And Alex’s son, Asher (Cameron Douglas), is a perpetual college student incapable of maturity. The proceedings are a bit too hokey and very much disorganized, but having actual family members portraying these roles gives the film an undeniable heft. So does the film’s intent to show how every generation has its own growing pains. Different eras require taking different approaches to life, with ourselves and with those close to us. The latter is especially notable in the scenes involving Michael and Kirk Douglas, who play two characters so stuck in their roles as father and son that being people proves difficult. As for Cameron Douglas, well, he knows all his lines.
- While We’re Young Posted in: Comedy Drama, Midlife
2014, USA, 97 min.
Getting old doesn’t just happen. You age every day, until like Cornelia and Josh in writer-director Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, you wonder how the hell you got here. The bittersweet fun of Baumbach’s tart comedy is how Cornelia and Josh keep dodging the hard truth: they don’t have the energy—or the stomach—to stay young. Yet they try longer than they should. We understand why. We’ve been there or soon will be. Reality bites. Read more…
- Quartet Posted in: Retirement
2012, UK, 98 min.
At the tea-house-quaint Beecham House, a residence for retired musicians, the inhabitants are preparing for their annual concert. This event is extra special because it promises the reunion of a famous, long-disbanded, vocal quartet. Maybe. Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) has an enormous ego that she wields like a sword. Jean’s ex-husband, Reginald (Tom Courtenay), harbors a hatred for her that has strengthened with time. Wilf (Billy Connolly) is a compliment away from a sexual harassment suit. Cissy (Pauline Collins) suffers from dementia. Dustin Hoffman, in his directorial debut, gives his wonderful cast the freedom to work. That is a treat. So is seeing a film that reveals that artistic talent—and the ability to forgive—do not atrophy as the years mount.
- One True Thing Posted in: Caregiving, Families
1998, USA, 127 min.
At the behest of her father (William Hurt), a writer whom she idolizes, young magazine journalist Ellen Gulden (Renée Zellweger) leaves New York City for the suburbs to care for her sick mother (Meryl Streep), a career homemaker she has little in common with. The months march on. The mother’s illness worsens. The father refuses to adapt to the changing dynamics. And Ellen learns that the roles she had assigned are off: Mom has a strength and grace worth emulating, while Dad’s creativity is an instrument of poisonous narcissism. Carl Franklin’s film version of Anna Quindlen’s best-selling novel is both touching and unsparing in examining how the relationship between child and parents changes over time—and not always for the better.
- 45 Years Posted in: Long-Lasting Marriages, Midlife
2015, UK, 95 min.
Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) are set to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in lavish style when Geoff receives word that the body of his former lover, who died in a hiking accident 50 years ago, has been unearthed. A previously undiscussed and unpleasant element gets thrust into an otherwise perfectly fine marriage. Geoff can’t put the possibilities of yesteryear behind him, while Kate—who publicly disdains hearing about this mystery woman—cannot keep herself from learning more. Director-writer Andrew Haigh, working from David Constantine’s story, slowly peels away the layers of the couple’s simmering discontent and reveals that time, silence and romantic gestures cannot repair battered, intertwined souls. The accumulated weight of our secrets can topple us. Rampling delivers a probing, searing performance as a woman who questions her marriage more with each passing day.
- Harold and Maude Posted in: Comedy Drama, Friendships, Mortality
1971, USA, 91 min.
Editor-turned-director Hal Ashby had an amazing stretch in the 1970s: The Last Detail, Shampoo, Coming Home, to name a few. Here is one of his highlights. This tender, funny and evergreen film is about a death-obsessed young man (Bud Cort) who meets a sunny, hipper-than-she-looks septuagenarian (Ruth Gordon) at a funeral, an encounter that enhances both of their lives. Gleefully devoid of pandering and “groovy old lady” tropes—see Gordon’s work in My Bodyguard (1980) for an example of the latter obnoxiousness—Harold and Maude simply chronicles a heart-warming relationship between two people. Everyone can enjoy this.
- Shirley Valentine Posted in: Midlife
1989, USA/UK, 108 min.
Shirley Bradshaw (Pauline Collins) is a 42-year-old Liverpool housewife who is so marginalized and isolated that she literally talks to the walls. Her husband (Bernard Hill) thinks she’s going crazy, but the wall at least lets Shirley be herself, something that has been diluted through years of thankless domesticity. When a friend invites her along for a Greek vacation, Shirley reluctantly accepts—and drinks in the freedom. Reprising her stage role, Collins’ spunky and regretful take on a woman facing an emptying hourglass is winning, and director Lewis Gilbert and writer Willy Russell’s refusal to frame Shirley’s rebirth solely through sex gives the movie the bittersweet jolt of recognition. She really does fall in love with herself again; maybe we will as well.
- The World’s Fastest Indian Posted in: Based on True Stories, Later Life Quests, Midlife
2005, New Zealand, 125 min.
Anthony Hopkins stars as New Zealander Burt Munro, who has one item on his bucket list in 1962, at age 63: to race his modified 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle on Utah’s fabled Bonneville Salt Flats. It appears to be an impossible endeavor for Burt, a no-frills retiree who lives in a shed and whose bike is the apotheosis of DIY industriousness, right down to using shoe polish to cover the cracks in the tires. Burt gradually puts it all together. He gets a loan to travel to America. He cheerfully solves myriad problems—a bad heart, for one—on his road trip from California to Utah. Most importantly, he inspires everyone he meets, including his fellow racers. Hopkins delivers an endearing performance that features not one whiff of senior stereotyping, and writer-director Roger Donaldson’s utterly charming biopic is a stirring reminder that the human spirit lacks an expiration date.
- The Savages Posted in: Caregiving, Families
2007, USA, 113 min.
Siblings Jon and Wendy Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney) are tasked with finding an assisted living residence for their aging, dementia-riddled father (Philip Bosco). What would be a difficult task for two functional people is arduous for Wendy and Jon. Not only do the pair have strained relationships with their father, the younger Savages are flaming narcissists who barely have control of their own lives. Writer-director Tamara Jenkins’ comedy-drama is difficult to watch, yet the film is riveting because it deals with the responsibilities and emotional agony of the caregiving process with unflinching candor. Love—especially if you can’t define the word—doesn’t conquer all. Hoffman and Linney, who received an Academy Award nomination for her work here, are outstanding.
- The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada Posted in: Mortality
2005, USA/France, 121 min.
In a neglected Texas border town, a Mexican man (Julio César Cedillo) is found fatally shot in the desert, a feast for the coyotes. For most, it’s one fewer illegal immigrant. For grizzled old cowboy Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), his colleague and friend had a name: Melquiades Estrada. The overmatched sheriff (Dwight Yoakam) and the overzealous border patrol officer who pulled the trigger (Barry Pepper) don’t share that sentiment. In his quest to see Melquiades treated like a person, Pete kidnaps the border patrol officer to help him give the dead man the hometown burial he deserves. Buoyed by Chris Menges’s evocative cinematography, Jones’s effort is a quietly confident exploration of the dreary lives of lifelong outcasts and the lengths required for redemption. The outstanding ensemble cast, which features Melissa Leo, Levon Helm and January Jones, gives those ideas heft.
- Tender Mercies Posted in: Midlife
1982, Australia, 92 min.
Haggard and used up, Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall, in an Oscar-winning performance) awakens from another bender in a motel in an anonymous stretch of Texas. Unable to pay his bill, he arranges with owner Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), a young, widowed, single mother, to work off his debt. He stays on and straightens out. Mac and Rosa Lee get close. They marry. Life is fine until Mac returns to his scorched past in country music, which includes a resentful ex-wife (Betty Buckley) and an estranged daughter (Ellen Barkin). The theme of second chances in late adulthood is a familiar one to moviegoers, but the difference with Tender Mercies is how director Bruce Beresford and screenwriter Horton Foote don’t indulge in weepy Hollywood theatrics. Small, authentic moments—a glance here, a pause there—accumulate until the last scene, when we realize this is an intensely satisfying film about regular people giving themselves permission to embrace happiness.
- The Lady in the Van Posted in: Based on True Stories, Friendships
2015, UK, 115 min.
In 1974, an old woman (Maggie Smith) parked her garbage can of a van in an upscale suburban London neighborhood. She stayed there for 15 years. During that time, the infamous Miss Shepherd developed a cantankerous rapport with playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings), who offered his driveway as a residence of sorts. (Writer’s curiosity triumphed over common sense.) Bennett devoted years to piercing this irascible, slovenly woman’s façade, when he was not fighting off his own mounting irritation with her personal hygiene and general irritability. Eventually, Jennings, who wrote a memoir about the whole affair, learned that Miss Shepherd reached this frazzled state through a series of unfortunate events. The Lady in the Van is pretty much a forum for Smith’s fussy talents, and viewers can certainly take pleasure in that. However, its most memorable accomplishment is knocking the wind out of the kooky-old-lady cliché, revealing the real person underneath.
- I’ll See You in My Dreams Posted in: Midlife, Single, Widowed or Divorced
2015, USA, 92 min.
Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner) is a beautiful widow who has carved out a nice, relaxing life for herself in California, complete with a cozy, beautiful home, a tight group of friends and ample free time. However, her life gets a jolt when two very different men vie for her attention: Lloyd (Martin Starr), the laconic and much younger pool guy, and Bill (Sam Elliott), a fellow retiree whose defining characteristics are a push-broom moustache, a giant cigar and bottomless confidence. Director and cowriter Brett Haley uses Carol’s burgeoning romantic life—and an unexpected tragedy—to quietly inspire the audience to go beyond “good enough.” Old age and settling down into its trappings of retirement don’t have to be synonymous with dousing your spark. Danner, Elliott and Starr are all excellent in this understated, resonant comedy-drama that everyone will savor.
- Hello, My Name is Doris Posted in: Comedy Drama, Midlife, Single, Widowed or Divorced
2016, USA, 95 min.
Mousy Doris (Sally Field) is forever overlooked, whether it’s at work—which teems with oblivious, trendy youngsters—or at her Staten Island home, where the memory of her late mother and years’ worth of stuff shackle her every step. The trend looks to continue when an attractive, much younger man (Max Greenfield) joins the office, inflaming Doris’ imagination with scenes inspired from the romance novels she devours. However, an encounter with a smiley, second-rate motivational speaker (Peter Gallagher) motivates Doris to get the newcomer’s attention, an endeavor that involves equal amounts of duplicity, heartache and personal growth. Michael Showalter’s comedy-drama succeeds grandly because it refuses to dismiss Doris as an antisocial kook. She’s struggling to explore new territory after decades of trudging in place. Field’s stirring, constantly evolving performance makes us care about Doris, whose growth inspires us to battle our own complacency.
- The Visitor Posted in: Midlife, Single, Widowed or Divorced
2008, USA, 114 min.
Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), a middle-aged professor distraught by his wife’s death, travels to New York for a conference. Upon entering his long-deserted apartment, he discovers a young immigrant couple living there. Sensing they are in a difficult situation, Walter lets them stay. Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), a Syrian musician, exposes Walter to hand drumming—and self-expression. Then Tarek is arrested over a misunderstanding and sent to a detention center for illegal immigrants. Walter’s world of cushy isolation is rattled, more so when Tarek’s mother (Hiam Abbass) arrives. The events of September 11, 2001, hang over the narrative. Writer-director Tom McCarthy’s restraint, coupled with Jenkins’ beautifully measured (and Oscar-nominated) performance, elicits a resounding personal reflection on an issue on which many have been numbed. The film makes a subtle plea for tolerance and immigration reform through a middle-aged white man, the demographic with the most to fear.
- Calendar Girls Posted in: Comedy Drama, Midlife
2004, UK/USA, 108 min.
In the small English village of Knapley, the Women’s Institute is the central (and somnolent) activity for elder ladies like the brash Chris (Helen Mirren) and the reserved Annie (Julie Walters). When Annie’s beloved husband succumbs to cancer, Chris comes up with the idea of a fundraiser in his honor—a nude calendar that gently lampoons the traditional, stodgy WI setup. Their lark soon becomes a worldwide sensation, complete with news coverage, photo shoots and a visit to The Tonight Show. Calendar Girls is charming, funny and, best of all, humane. Director Nigel Cole celebrates the beauty of aging without sacrificing his characters, who simply want to celebrate their full bloom of womanhood. Mirren and Walters are terrific in portraying the accidental business partners who realize that their friendship matters more than any temporary fame. Based on a true story.
- The Trip to Bountiful Posted in: Later Life Quests
1975, USA, 108 min.
Poor health and financial obligations have relegated Carrie Watts (Geraldine Page) to her soft-touch son (John Heard) and nagging daughter-in-law’s (Carlin Glynn) cramped apartment in 1940s Houston. What keeps Carrie going is the unflagging desire to return to her hometown of Bountiful, TX, where her memories are bathed in a nostalgic haze. When she finally makes her escape, Carrie’s ebullience darkens as the heartache of the past and the realities of the present gradually merge. Peter Masterson’s interpretation of Horton Foote’s play is a showcase for Page, who won an Academy Award for her tender performance. She makes us understand why Carrie craves retreating to the past: it’s a sanctuary against being marginalized and coddled. The film poignantly reminds us that obsessing over the past keeps us from enjoying the present.
- The Remains of the Day Posted in: Midlife
1993, UK-USA, 134 min.
James Stevens’ (Anthony Hopkins) stoic devotion makes him an exemplary butler. That trait wobbles with the arrival of young, new housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), whose affection for the middle-aged Stevens grows over the years. Director James Ivory’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel is unsparing in its lack of romanticism—the scenery is all rigid formality; the camerawork, all shadows—making the pair’s evolving relationship deceptively taboo. Stevens is so driven to follow his code of conduct that he sees Kenton as a threat, instead of a possible salvation from his self-imposed stifling. The film reveals that a lifetime of following orders has an unsettling impact. Stevens’ quiet grace may be an asset at dowdy, Nazi-sympathizing Darlington Hall, but it isolates him from the outside world—and his own happiness. Ivory doesn’t announce all of that, but discerning viewers will recognize the very real benefits of listening to our emotions at any age.