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 Farewell Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Families
2019, US/China, 100 min.
Billi (Awkafina) is an independent, Chinese-American woman who receives two pieces of shocking news. First, her beloved grandmother in China, Nai Nai (Shuzen Zhao), has a terminal cancer diagnosis—and that is hidden from her by her sister. Then, instead of dealing with the grim news directly, her family is heading back to say goodbye via a hastily arranged wedding for her grandson. The arrangement enrages Billi, but she plays along and discovers that there’s no one definition of love. For a movie focused on an elaborate ruse, director-writer Lulu Wang (working from an event in her own life) eschews the broad and obvious. Her characters are regular people, struggling with their life choices, whether it’s Billi realizing that her grandmother is the last remnant of her childhood in China or a dinner conversation on American education that turns into a thinly veiled debate on opportunity abroad versus domestic loyalty. But this winning, finely crafted movie runs through Zhao’s sly, winning performance, which reveals that tradition, coupled with flexibility and self-awareness, is a balm for life’s onslaught.
- Sweet Bean Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Friendships
2015, Japan/France, 113 min.
In Japan, doriyaki vendor (Masatoshi Nagase) lives in brooding isolation, running his small store with rote efficiency. When he puts up a help-wanted sign, he’s visited by Tokue, a meek, kindly, septuagenarian woman (Kirin Kiki) with gnarled, knotty hands. He declines Tokue’s entreaties to stop using vendor-bought, sweet bean paste between his pancakes—until he tries her homemade confection. They toil in the pre-dawn hours, perfecting the paste via ritualistic acts of washing and boiling and waiting. Tokue, who lives with older, recovered lepers in a remote complex, finds happiness in life’s basic pleasures: the blindingly white cherry blossoms that surround the shop; helping customers; finding freedom in creating a delicacy. Sentarô learns to enjoy the grace of a simple life, as exemplified by Tokue’s guileless, grateful ways, and learns to engage with the world that has run him down. Director-writer Naomi Kawase’s movie is an understated, powerful character study that shows how simple gestures of kindness can elevate our lives beyond parameters both inflicted upon us and self-imposed.
- Chef Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Families, Midlife
2014, USA, 114 min.
Middle-aged chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is stuck in a simmer. He’s divorced and 3,000 miles away from his 10-year-old son, and the owner of his fancy California restaurant (Dustin Hoffman) stifles his ideas over the old favorites. When a demanding and influential food blogger (Oliver Platt) roasts Carl for his uninspired fare, the chef explodes at the writer in person and on Twitter. An unraveled, now unemployed Carl accepts his ex-wife’s suggestion that he watch their son (Emjay Anthony) for her in Miami, his hometown. The thinly veiled ruse for father-son time energizes Carl. He buys a food truck, renovates it and embarks on a cross-country trek—Carl cooks, the boy handles the social media. Viewers reap the results. This buoyant comedy-drama not only examines the joy that can result when children and parents share a passion, it’s a convincing reminder that it’s never too late to discover your passion. Written and directed by Favreau, who’s known mostly for blockbuster fare (Iron Man, The Jungle Book).
- Umberto D. Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Retirement
1952, Italy, 89 min.
Seventy years after its release, director Vittorio De Sica’s understated, brilliant character study remains a treasure to be savored. Umberto Domenico Ferrari, a retired civil servant, who lives with his beloved dog, Flika, faces an increased cost of living that outdistances his meager pension. As a result, he is cast out into the world, looking to pay his debts, which range from selling off his belongings, to asking for loans, to considering suicide. De Sica did not get theatrical or heavy-handed in presenting the story of an old man’s struggle to retain his pride and quality of life in a world that won’t allow it—nor of the dog whose presence is his sole source of hope. Adding to the film’s poignancy is its dearth of trained performers, which enhances the heartbreaking reality De Sica chronicles. Carlo Battisti, then 70, who is memorable in the title role, was a university lecturer who had not acted before. Filmed in black and white with English subtitles.
- Everybody’s Fine Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Families
2009, USA, 99 min.
Robert De Niro plays Frank Goode, a retiree with an aching amount of free time now that his wife has died and his four, grown-up kids are out of the house. After his attempt to get the kids together fails, Frank embarks on a cross-country road trip, visiting each child unannounced. The ones he sees (Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale and Drew Barrymore) play their parts, steering Frank away from anything remotely unpleasant, including their perceived professional and personal shortcomings. But Frank’s shaky health and a looming tragedy make such a ruse impossible to maintain. This remake of the 1990 Italian film Stanno Tutti Bene is a well-acted, sweet exploration of how no family benefits from hiding the truth. Understanding and acceptance lead to deeper fulfillment—at any age.
- The Automat Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Documentaries
2021, USA, 79 min.
The Automat, a Philadelphia and New York dining fixture for decades, was all ornate chrome, marble and enchantment. Patrons fed nickels into a window to grab food—from creamed spinach to coconut cream pies—all, freshly made. Anybody could dine out in style. Director Lisa Hurwitz’s wistful, insightful documentary covers the chain eatery’s rise in the early part of the 20th century (more women working in cities) and its precipitous fall in the 1950s and ‘60s (the exodus to the suburbs; the presence of frozen foods). The film’s charm, though, comes from former patrons’ childhood memories. Mel Brooks marvels over the Automat’s perfect coffee; Ruth Bader Ginsburg recalls dropping in after her piano lesson. Hurwitz, who was in her early 20s when she started filming in 2013, shows how past cultural institutions in America have emotional resonance and an impact on today’s standbys. To wit, Howard Shultz credits his childhood visit to an Automat with inspiring his own chain—Starbucks.
- News of the World Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Families
2020, USA, 118 min.
In hardscrabble, quick-to-anger, post-Civil War America, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) travels to isolated outposts to read from newspapers for audiences hungry for information. On his latest business trip, the middle-aged, peripatetic Kidd finds a 10-year-old girl (Helena Zengel) abandoned in the woods. Kidd learns Johanna was to be delivered to her German immigrant relatives after being kidnapped by a Kyowa tribe, whom she now considers her true family. The grizzled Civil War veteran unwillingly becomes the girl’s temporary caretaker, navigating the dangerous Texas terrain to bring young Johanna to an unfamiliar home while figuring out how to break through her taciturn, nearly uncommunicative personality. Paul Greengrass’ Western could be construed as a thinly veiled but potent parable of today’s politically fractured climate, but it succeeds as a tender, reflective tale of two lost souls finding emotional sustenance in the wreckage of their lives. Greengrass eases his trademark jumpy, taut, directorial style to craft a stirring reminder that it’s never too late to make ourselves whole. Hanks and Zengel are terrific. Based on Paulette Jiles’ novel.
- Supernova Posted in: Arts, Caregiving, Cinema, Long-Lasting Marriages, Mortality
2021, UK, 95 min.
Married couple Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) take their camper through the English countryside, a pleasant distraction from the latter’s dementia diagnosis. There’s gentle bickering, visits with friends and bucolic beauty to spare. But the signs of Tusker’s decline—the inability to put on a shirt, the wandering—are impossible to ignore and cannot erase a building conflict. Tusker, a writer, knows his fate and sees no point in prolonging the inevitable; Sam wants to play the role of doting spouse, to see their relationship end at death do us part. Writer-director Harry Macqueen prefers compassion over morality in exploring the spousal caretaker-patient relationship. If a person facing a terminal illness chooses to end their life, should a loved one honor that wish or fight for more time? Sam and Tusker’s exploration of that question is poignant and even-handed, the kind of development people have every day. Viewers will be riveted by this mature love story and reminded how listening and honesty enrich every worthy relationship.
- Nomadland Posted in: Arts, Based on True Stories, Cinema, Midlife, Single, Widowed or Divorced
2020, United States, 107 min.
As it does with millions of modern-day people, the promise of a traditional retirement has escaped Fern (Frances McDormand). Faced with the death of her husband and the loss of her entire town due to the Great Recession, Fern takes her battered, converted van where there’s work and a place to park. Her new family becomes a wandering band of older Americans who find security in transience. Director-writer Chloé Zhao tells Fern’s story simply and without any contrivances, allowing us to admire a woman who finds her center by traveling the country. McDormand, who served as a producer, delivers a lived-in, authentic performance that enhances the film’s message of resolve. Though the circumstances surrounding Fern’s lifestyle are sad, her determination to find purpose in her life’s breakdown turns Nomadland into an intriguing paradox, a life-affirming criticism of capitalism’s ceaseless grind. Winner of three Academy Awards—Best Director, Best Picture and Best Actress. Based on Jessica Bruder’s book.
- Elizabeth Is Missing Posted in: Arts, Caregiving, Cinema, Families, Friendships
2019, United Kingdom, 87 min.
Due to the onslaught of Alzheimer’s disease, Maud’s life consists of notes—reminders affixed to items around the house and stuffed into her pockets. It’s a life of frustration and stasis, punctuated by outings with her friend, Elizabeth (Maggie Steed), who resides nearby. When Elizabeth doesn’t show up for their get-together, Maud (Glenda Jackson) is annoyed. The time and place are on a scrap of paper, so where is she? As the days mount without any explanation of Elizabeth’s sudden disappearance, Maud grows obsessed, then frantic as the hazy details of her friend’s predicament overlap with an unresolved tragedy from long ago. This isn’t a mystery as much as it is a stirring portrait of an older woman’s struggle to be heard as she gets pulled between the past and the present. Elizabeth Is Missing provides a potent reminder of the agony faced by those afflicted with dementia, the patience required by their loved ones and the lack of a convenient resolution all around. Jackson, as usual, is terrific. Based on Emma Healey’s novel.
- The Father Posted in: Arts, Caregiving, Cinema, Families
2020, UK-France, 97 min.
Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) endures dementia while living with his adult daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman), in a palatial London apartment. The combative Anthony refuses all care, while Anne shoulders the burden. Director/co-writer Florian Zeller’s brilliant drama (adapted from his play) abandons any straightforward narrative impulses. Anthony’s reality changes daily. People don’t look the same. People appear, then vanish. The apartment looks slightly different day by day, even moment to moment. Is Anthony grappling with his declining cognitive abilities or is Anne the one struggling to cope? The result is an unforgettable and poetically powerful look at how dementia not only devastates the afflicted but the people forced to become caretakers. Nominated for six Academy Awards, the film was the winner of two—including for Hopkins, who at 83 became the oldest winner in a competitive acting category.
- The Life Ahead Posted in: Arts, Caregiving, Cinema, Families, Friendships
2020, Italy, 94 min.
Orphaned 12-year-old Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) dabbles in petty crime in a seaside Italian village, heading nowhere fast. When the boy’s temporary caretaker asks his neighbor, Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren), to take the charismatic, scheming Momo in for two months, Rosa reluctantly agrees. The Holocaust survivor and former streetwalker is the neighborhood’s mom. Her health is failing but her feistiness persists. As Rosa and others in her circle show the kid genuine affection, he reconsiders his path. The film is as predictable as the sunrise, but it’s easy to succumb to the bittersweet tone and the winning performances. Gueye is a revelation and the legendary Loren scores in her first film role in 11 years. The Life Ahead shows the influence older adults can have on youth without resorting to saccharine antics or fist-pounding life lessons. If the movie sounds familiar, there’s a reason. It’s based on the French novel, La Vie Devant Soi, and was adapted for the screen twice before—including as the 1978 Oscar winner, Madame Rosa.
- The Lunchbox Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Midlife, Single, Widowed or Divorced
2013, India, 104 min.
In Mumbai, government employee Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), widowed and withdrawn, sulks toward a lonely retirement, weighed down by the prospect of old age. In the middle of another humdrum day, Saajan sits down for his delivered lunch and is blown away. That food wasn’t made by a restaurant, but by the much younger Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a neglected housewife, long entrenched in a lingering, loveless marriage, hoping to get her disinterested husband’s attention. The mix-up evolves into a daily communication between the two lost souls. Ila packs a note with Saajan’s lunch; he returns the empty containers with a missive. Each exchange reveals more about their lives, bringing them closer to meeting—and having reality interfere. An honest, poignant look at the quiet toxicity of complacency is made compelling by the late Khan’s moving, artfully restrained performance as a man rediscovering his ability to connect with the outside world. Discerning moviegoers will adore this intelligent, exquisite film that is alternately grounded and grand.
- The Hero Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Later Life Quests, Mortality
2017, USA, 96 min.
Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott), 71, is coasting on the fumes of a long-dormant acting career, looking for work and biding time with his friend/pot dealer (Nick Offerman) in stoned, leisurely inertia. When he gets a troubling medical diagnosis, he looks to mend his relationship with his adult daughter (Krysten Ritter) and embarks on a romance with a much younger woman (Laura Prepon). Neither knows of his diagnosis, but Lee’s uncertain future, coupled with a sudden career resurgence, turns his stagnation into a full-fledged personal crisis. Can he revive his legacy and lean into the comfort of success or should he open himself up to the highs and lows of real-life relationships? The movie’s theme is universal, but Elliott’s empathetic, weathered performance makes us feel that weight all the more—and provides ample reason to go on Lee’s alternately somber and enlightening journey. Director and co-writer Brett Haley also directed Elliott in I’ll See You in My Dreams (2015), which comes highly recommended.
- When Did You Last See Your Father? Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Families, Midlife
2007, UK-Ireland, 92 min.
Writer Blake Morrison (Colin Firth) is permanently exasperated by his elderly father, Arthur (Jim Broadbent), a bellicose, overbearing doctor whose love for his son comes couched in passive-aggressive barbs. “It’s plastic,” Arthur, long skeptical of his son’s profession, observes after Blake wins a writing award. When Arthur grows seriously ill, Blake returns to his childhood home and is prompted to review their past. The plot toggles between Arthur’s inevitable, unglamorous decline and the early 1960s, when Blake and Arthur’s relationship unravels as the increasingly independent teenager sees his father’s brio and rapport with women as critical shortcomings. Oscar winners Broadbent and Firth are excellent, and director Anand Tucker doesn’t sugarcoat the Morrison men’s sometimes contentious rapport. There will be no gooey bedside chat, so Blake must come to terms with his father’s love without one party providing guidance. This might be one of the best movies in recent memory that covers the exquisite difficulty of viewing a parent as a person, not as a myth.
- And So It Goes Posted in: Arts, Caregiving, Cinema, Families, Midlife, Single, Widowed or Divorced
2014, USA, 94 min.
In a quaint, coastal New England town, Oren Little (Michael Douglas) is its biggest irritant. He’s rude to dogs, kids, pregnant ladies—pretty much anyone with the temerity to smile at him. Long widowed, Oren is eager to sell his family home and escape his past, until his troubled, adult son (Austin Lysy) drops off his nine-year-old daughter (Sterling Jerins) before heading to prison. Oren wrangles his singer neighbor, Leah (Diane Keaton), to help watch the granddaughter he’s never met, a situation that draws the pair closer to their adorable, unintentional charge—and to each other. Rob Reiner’s comedy-drama has issues beyond Reiner’s character’s hideous toupee. Douglas and Keaton make a nice pair, but the screenplay gives them little sparkling repartee and the plot features absolutely no surprises. The film’s biggest value is as a palate cleanser. Reiner gently urges us to look for happiness at home and shows that embracing forgiveness can open our hearts to unexpected happiness.
- Finding Your Feet Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Families, Midlife
2017, UK, 111 min.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Sandra Abbott (Imelda Stauton). Her husband of 40 years had just retired, meaning their life of pampered leisure was supposed to start. Instead, she catches him canoodling in the wine cellar with her best friend, a glimpse of their five-year affair. Sandra moves out of the house and descends on her estranged, bohemian, older sister, Bif (Celia Imrie), who lives in a working-class London neighborhood. Stuffy Sandra flounders in her sister’s free-spirit environment, spending most of her time in a snit. Then Bif takes Sandra to her community dance class, where she finds her feet. Richard Lonzcraine’s perceptive, winning comedy-drama takes no cheap shots as Sandra’s journey of self-discovery is handled with depth and care, especially her growing rapport with a high-stepping handyman (Timothy Spall), who is dealing with his own fractured marriage. Finding Your Feet makes us care for its superb cast of characters, who convince us to leap into happiness—whatever it might be—whenever it enters our view. This is a lovely, life-affirming film that all ages will savor.
- Tuesdays with Morrie Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Mortality
1999, USA, 89 min.
Detroit sportswriter Mitch Albom’s jumbled world resets when he learns that his beloved college professor, Morrie Schwartz, is dying of ALS. Despite a frantic work schedule and a rickety personal life, Albom reconnects with the fatherly professor he hasn’t seen in 16 years. He goes a step further: traveling from Detroit to Boston every Tuesday during the professor’s old “office hours” to get lessons on “The Meaning of Life.” The younger man learns to live his best life from Schwartz, whose empathetic wisdom glows brighter as the days grow more painful. “Dying is nothing to be worried about,” Morrie advises. “Living unhappily, that’s another matter.” The made-for-TV movie veers toward the saccharine, but its good intentions and the sensitive performances of Jack Lemmon (in one of his final roles) and Hank Azaria more than atone. More importantly, Schwartz’s lessons of love, hope and learning until the very end remain timeless. Based on Albom’s 1997 memoir, which has sold more than 10 million copies and spent more than four years on the New York Times’ best-seller list.
- Darling Companion Posted in: Cinema, Families, Midlife
2012, USA, 103 min.
When Beth (Diane Keaton) finds a raggedy dog on the side of the road, she can’t bear to let go of the mutt. The development doesn’t sit well with Beth’s husband, Joseph (Kevin Kline), a preoccupied back surgeon. He has little need for a new, furry, family member, whom Beth names “Freeway.” Time passes. Beth’s love for the dog blooms; Joseph remains indifferent. When he loses Freeway in the woods after their daughter’s wedding (to the pooch’s vet), the couple’s search—aided by friends and family members—doubles as a rustic therapy session to reassess their feelings. Lawrence Kasdan’s meditative, leisurely drama fits alongside his previous works (The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist) and offers a stirring reminder to savor and renew our longest, deepest relationships. Time and inertia do not automatically preserve them. Viewers will adore the talented members of the search party, including Dianne Wiest, Sam Shepard and Richard Jenkins, who, as is his wont, steals every scene he’s in. (Yes, the dog is adorable too.)
- Roommates Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Families
1995, USA, 108 min.
Max Apple’s acclaimed memoir of life with his grandfather, who lived to 107, gets successfully overhauled in this heartwarming, emotionally satisfying film adaptation that gives Peter Falk a memorable role. The beloved television actor plays Rocky, a cantankerous baker, who at age 75 becomes the caretaker of his young, orphaned grandson. The boy, Michael, grows up. He becomes a doctor, marries, has children. Then tragedy strikes. At each high and low, the old man provides ballast for Michael (played as an adult by D.B. Sweeney). Though Rocky is portrayed as a font of wisdom, what distinguishes the movie is director Peter Yates’ refusal to turn the character into a mascot or a punch line. Rocky’s refusal to compromise, coupled with his relentless love for his family, will delight and educate viewers of all ages.