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 Road to Galveston Posted in: Based on True Stories, Caregiving, Midlife, Single, Widowed or Divorced
1996, USA, 93 min.
Based on a true story, this made-for-TV film portrays 65-year-old Jordan Roosevelt (Cicely Tyson), alone, destitute and depressed following the death of her husband. Determined to save her home from foreclosure and live on her own, Jordan defies the wishes of her adult son and embarks on a new career as a caregiver for Alzheimer’s patients. Her home becomes a residence for three patients in various stages of the disease. Despite the demands she faces as a caregiver and the challenges of living with limited financial resources, Jordan perseveres. Her home-care clients also thrive, as best they can, forming friendships with one another that transform them as they struggle to maintain some semblance of control over their lives.
- Philomena Posted in: Based on True Stories, Later Life Quests
2013, UK, 98 min.
Based on a true story, this is a redemptive tale with none of the sickly sweet aftertaste. Former BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is desperate for work, so he takes an assignment he considers well beneath his reputation and cultured aspirations: a human-interest story about Philomena Lee (Judi Dench). Philomena is a sweet churchgoer looking to reunite with the infant son she was forced to give up for adoption over 50 years ago. As the story slinks into darker terrain and takes the pair to America, we see that Philomena has wells of emotional strength underneath her perpetual, wide-eyed cheer. Directed with assurance, sympathy and gentle wit by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters), Philomena shows that resolving the past can be a redemptive act if it’s done with patience and faith.
- 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.
- Woman in Gold Posted in: Based on True Stories, Later Life Quests
2015, UK, USA, 109 min.
Woman in Gold is an unabashed crowd pleaser. Like 2013’s Philomena, Woman in Gold is based on a true story involving an older woman resolving her past. But we don’t mind the similarity. The performances here are sturdy and winning; the emotions feel true. Woman in Gold works to win our affections. Read more…
- 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.
- 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 Bridges of Madison County Posted in: Midlife
1995, USA, 135 min.
In dusty, sun-baked Iowa, National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood, who also directed) meets Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep), a bored, stranded housewife. From their chance encounter—he stops at her house for directions—a tumultuous, four-day romance erupts. The emotionally authentic performances by the iconic actors are reason enough to watch. It’s the story’s structure, however—Francesca’s adult children relive the long-ago events through their late mother’s detailed journals—that makes us realize that older figures have unexpected depth and poetry to their lives. Our parents, it turns out, were people with churning emotions, a fact Bridges of Madison County reveals with resonance and poignancy.
- 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.”