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 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In Mumbai, government employee Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), widowed and withdrawn, sulks toward a lonely retirement, weighed down by the prospect of old age.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.
- What They Had Posted in: Arts, Caregiving, Cinema, Families
2018, USA, 101 min.
After her senile mother wanders off in the dead of night, Bridget (Hilary Swank) rushes to her hometown of Chicago to help. Mom (Blythe Danner) returns unscathed, but chaos reigns. Bridget’s orderly, duty-bound father (Robert Forster) refuses to place his wife in a care facility even as her condition worsens. Bridget’s brother, Nicholas (Michael Shannon), has grown resentful over steering his in-denial parents toward stability while his own life crumbles. And being home forces Bridget to face her own unhappiness with her present—and the past she has tried to outrun for decades. Director-writer Elizabeth Chomko shows how tenaciously we hold on to our familial roles, even when they hurt the ones we love—and the joy that can arrive when we let go. The performances are excellent in this poignant and honest family drama that treats all of its characters with compassion and depth.
- No Country for Old Men Posted in: Arts, Cinema, Mortality
2007, USA, 122 min.
Retired welder Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) discovers a case filled with $2 million cash in the Texas desert. Moss grabs the money and metaphorically opens the gates of hell. He’s relentlessly pursued by monotone, bowl-cut, sporting hit man Anton Chigurh (the bone-chilling Javier Bardem), who is almost unstoppable. Moss and soon-to-retire sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who’s pursuing the case, make their stand in this battle of Old West heroism over indefatigable and relentless malevolence. Director-writers Joel and Ethan Coen’s (Fargo) rollicking crime movie is also a wistful reminder: heroes get old and die; evil never lags. This indisputable meditative classic—filled with layered, pitch-perfect performances—won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
- 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, empty–handed 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.