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.
- The Thing About My Folks Posted in: Families, Mortality
2005, USA, 98 min.
Written by and starring Paul Reiser, this comedic father-son adventure opens with Sam (Peter Falk) seeking out his son, Ben (played by Reiser), because Sam has discovered a note informing him that Muriel, his wife of 47 years, has left him. While Sam’s daughters and daughter-in-law begin their search for Muriel, Ben and Sam embark on a trip to upstate New York to inspect an old farmhouse that Ben wants to purchase. What begins as a day trip turns into a much longer journey, giving father and son the opportunity to explore their relationship, issues from the past, and ideas about what makes a good husband. This film is about a family who care for and support one another but also show anger and their fears.
- Nobody’s Fool Posted in: Families, Later Life Quests, Midlife
1994, USA, 110 min.
This slice-of-life story, based on the novel by Richard Russo, takes place in a snowbound, upstate New York town where Donald “Sully” Sullivan (Paul Newman), a 60-something hard-luck handyman, rents an upstairs room from Miss Beryl (Jessica Tandy), his former eighth-grade teacher. Estranged from his relatives for 30 years, Sully finds family in the cast of characters at the local bar until his son Peter returns to town with his own family. Sully is forced to confront issues from his early life and gets a second chance to experience the responsibilities and rewards of parenthood and grandparenthood and to realize that there are people in his life who are more important than he is.
- I Never Sang for My Father Posted in: Caregiving, Families
1970, USA, 92 min.
In a film based on a 1962 original screenplay entitled The Tiger, written by Robert Anderson, director Gilbert Cates presents a story of conflict between a father and son and the love and obligations that bind them. A widowed college professor just entering his middle years, Gene (Gene Hackman) is struggling to connect with his hard-to-please father (Melvyn Douglas). When his mother dies, Gene must choose between getting married again and relocating to the West Coast or moving into his father’s home on the East Coast to care for him and perhaps finally win his father’s love and approval. This film will enlighten you about parental relationships and the unexpected challenges of midlife.
- The Wash Posted in: Families, Long-Lasting Marriages, Midlife, Single, Widowed or Divorced
1988, USA, 94 min.
Written by Philip Kan Gotanda, this is the story of a Japanese-American woman in her 60s who, defying the convention that would have her endure an unhappy marriage, decides to leave her husband of 40 years. Eight months after Masi has left her gruff, stubborn husband, Nobu, for an apartment of her own, she starts seeing another man but continues to stop by weekly to do Nobu’s laundry. In time, a new romance blossoms, much to the dismay of Nobu and their two grown daughters. Masi’s request for a divorce so she can marry her new boyfriend is an angry confrontation and we see that for all the happiness of the new couple, the claims of the past weigh heavily.
- Up Posted in: Comedy Drama, Friendships, Later Life Quests, Single, Widowed or Divorced
2009, USA, animated, 96 min.
Recently widowed and faced with losing his longtime home, Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) fashions a unique balm for his woe. He hitches countless helium balloons to his house and literally floats away toward South America, his beloved wife’s dream destination. The plan quickly falters when the grumpy Carl discovers that endlessly exuberant, neighborhood kid Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai) has inadvertently hitched a ride, an arrangement that ends up filling the cracks in this duo’s lonely lives. Carl discovers that life gets better when you let people into your adventure—even if irreplaceable loved ones have left it. A Pixar product filled with laughs for kids, but it’s the grownups who will be touched by its poignancy.
- The Wedding Gift Posted in: Based on True Stories, Caregiving, Long-Lasting Marriages, Mortality
1994, UK, 87 min.
A BBC original, The Wedding Gift is based on a true story about a woman faced with a terminal illness that defies medical diagnosis. Diana (Julie Walters) and Deric (Jim Broadbent), her devoted husband, have an ideal marriage: they thrive in each other’s company, they’re funny, and they enjoy their two grown children and Deric’s dotty mother. Deric has taken on the round-the-clock responsibilities of caring for Diana, resulting in the near-collapse of his lingerie business. As Diana’s condition worsens, she decides to plan her husband’s future and convinces Deric, an aspiring writer, to attend a writer’s convention. There he meets Aileen Armitage, a blind novelist to whom he is attracted. Deric’s future is set in motion. You will want to note the role of humor in this film and the ways in which characters deal with physical decline, caretaking and the end of life.
- The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Posted in: Comedy Drama, Later Life Quests, Midlife, Retirement
2011, USA, UK, United Arab Emirates, 124 min.
Seven elder Britons in various states of spiritual and physical pique head to India for the proverbial fresh start. Their new home, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, is a fresh coat of paint away from being charmingly dilapidated, but it’s a spiritual charger for these boarders, who pursue lost loves, new careers and independence. A surprise hit when it reached US theaters in 2012, John Madden’s stirring, thoughtful comedy-drama features sumptuous cinematography and an emotional authenticity that will enchant adults of all ages. The glittering cast, which includes such pros as Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, brings depth to each role. You can relate to these people. Followed in 2015 by a disappointing sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
- Grace and Frankie Posted in: Comedy Drama, Midlife, Single, Widowed or Divorced
(Season 1, 2015), 13 episodes, available on Netflix streaming
What’s nice about Grace and Frankie—aside from seeing Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda stretching their comedic wings—is how it looks at the golden years with reality and humor. That theme runs throughout the first 13 episodes of the series. Even when the show veers toward the farcical, we root for the title characters—two not-quite friends whose lengthy marriages come to an abrupt end—far more than we recoil at their actions. Read more…
- Robot & Frank Posted in: Caregiving, Comedy Drama
2012, USA, 89 min.
In Frank Langella’s storied career, this might be one of his best performances. He plays an ex-jewel thief who initially refuses his adult son’s gift of a robot assistant (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard)—until he discovers the robot can get him back into the felonious life he so desperately misses. This touching, finely crafted drama set in the near future boasts constant delights, including this one: in a time when electronics are eliminating the human element in everyday living, the robot engages with Frank more than anyone else in his life. Getting older is a lot easier when someone is valued. People should serve that role. Robot & Frank offers this reminder in a way that is entertaining as well as honest.
- The Age of Adaline Posted in: Fantasies
2015, USA, 112 min.
Old age is frequently viewed as a flaw, as if those over 45 are incapable of enjoying life because they’re too slow, too jaded, too everything. The Age of Adaline scoffs at that notion. This charming, romantic fable doesn’t venerate youth, even though its title character has been a beautiful young woman for nearly 80 years. Read more…
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Posted in: Fantasies
2008, USA, 166 min.
From the day he was born in 1918, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) has grown younger, not older. As you would expect, Benjamin’s life is anything but typical, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. When his longtime crush, the regularly aging Daisy (Cate Blanchett), returns to his hometown of New Orleans, the normal definition of “happily ever after” doesn’t apply. This poignant turn is one of the great charms of David Fincher’s crowd pleaser (adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story), an epic, rousing fable that focuses on self-exploration and empowerment. As the title character says, “For what it’s worth, it’s never too late—or in my case, too early—to be whoever you want to be.”
- The Intern Posted in: Later Life Quests, Midlife, Retirement, Single, Widowed or Divorced
2015, USA, 121 min.
The Intern is a Nancy Meyers movie, for sure—all sunny skies and characters with straight teeth living in Brooklyn brownstones straight from Architectural Digest. At first glance, it’s another one of Meyers’ puddle-deep salutes to woe among upwardly mobile seniors (It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give). But the longer you stay with it, the more Meyers wins you over with her tale of two colleagues falling into a friendship. Of course, it helps to have Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway obliterating the artifice. Read more…
- Fried Green Tomatoes Posted in: Friendships, Midlife
1991, USA, 130 min.
Two stories meld into a heartfelt ode to friendship and personal resilience. In the early 1990s, middle-aged Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) befriends spark-plug, nursing home resident Mrs. Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy), who quickly enchants Evelyn with the story of two women she knew from her younger days in Depression-era Alabama: Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker) and Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson). Through flashbacks, we learn of the single ladies’ fiercely loving friendship, which inspires Evelyn to find the spirit she lost long ago. Directed with warmth and restraint by Jon Avnet, the movie will inspire adults of all ages. Actress Fannie Flagg helped adapt the screenplay from her novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café (1988).
- About Schmidt Posted in: Later Life Quests, Midlife, Retirement, Single, Widowed or Divorced
2002, USA, 125 min.
Upon retiring, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) finds his life beginning to unravel. His wife (Jane Squibb) dies suddenly, resurrecting a troubling secret, and Schmidt’s underachieving daughter (Hope Davis) is on the brink of marrying a numbskull (Dermot Mulroney). In the hope of restoring order, Schmidt drives his new RV from Nebraska to Denver for the wedding and inadvertently embarks on a difficult, necessary journey of self-discovery. Director/cowriter Alexander Payne’s bittersweet comedy-drama is essential viewing for its unglamorous, insightful look at personal growth—which is not solely the domain of the young—and for Nicholson’s humane and stunning performance. Holstering his rebel charisma, the great actor plays an ordinary man finally putting the pieces of his long life together in this sobering, but ultimately redeeming, film.
- Gloria Posted in: Midlife, Single, Widowed or Divorced
2013, Chile, 110 min.
Despite a busy job and myriad social obligations that fill up her free time, middle-aged divorcée Gloria (Paulina García) is undeniably alone. What’s worse, her grown-up children, who have families and careers, are blithely moving along without her. The arrival of Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a successful businessman, into Gloria’s life is a blessing—until she discovers that he can’t detach himself from the family he has left behind. Buoyed by Garcia’s subtly emotive work, director and cowriter Sebastián Lelio’s quietly inspirational drama reveals that it’s never too late to be happy on our terms.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.