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.
- Central Station Posted in: Later Life Quests, Midlife, Retirement, Single, Widowed or Divorced
1998, Brazil (subtitled), 106 min.
Central Station is a film about possibilities, second chances and discovery. Dora, a cynical, lonely, aging women sits at the central train station in Rio de Janeiro, writing letters for illiterate people hoping to reconnect with loved ones. Indifferent to her clients, Dora arbitrarily decides to send some of the letters while discarding others. When a woman who paid Dora to write a letter to her son’s long-missing father is run over by a bus outside the station, the child, Josue, pleads with Dora to take him to his father. Forced to confront her detachment, Dora commits to returning Josue to his missing parent. Thus begins Dora’s journey of rediscovery. Be sure to follow the ways in which Josue and Dora change each other and, in so doing, discover the possibilities in their own futures.
- Nebraska Posted in: Caregiving, Comedy Drama, Families
2013, USA, 115 min.
Ornery Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is reaching the end of his life with little to show for it, save for encroaching senility and bruised feelings from his family. That’s why he keeps trying to walk from Billings, MT, to Lincoln, NE, to claim a million-dollar sweepstakes prize. It’s a scam, but Woody’s son, David (Will Forte), indulges him. He drives Woody to Lincoln, stopping en route for a family reunion in his father’s downtrodden hometown. The news of Woody’s future “fortune” travels too quickly for David to quash, though he has time to unearth the twisted roots of his father’s churlish behavior. Director Alexander Payne’s (About Schmidt, The Descendants) insightful, bracing comedy-drama profiles an old man’s last grasp for dignity, and the younger man who learns to view his father as a person rather than a burden.
- The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Posted in: Comedy Drama, Later Life Quests, Midlife, Retirement
2015, USA, 122 min.
The nicest thing about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)—where a group of senior Brits get recharged in India and in a creaky hotel—was how relatable it felt. Following the characters through their highs and lows was far from a chore. Read more…
- Still Alice Posted in: Caregiving, Families
2014, USA, 101 min.
Still Alice tracks a family’s changing dynamics after a life-shattering diagnosis and serves as a showcase for Julianne Moore, whose beautiful, freshly Oscar-winning work allows us to see her family’s struggles as part of the title character’s long, losing battle with herself. The movie proceeds at an uncomfortably languid pace until the end, when we’re shaken. Read more…
- Passion Fish Posted in: Caregiving, Friendships, Midlife
1992, USA, 134 min.
Directed by John Sayles, this is a film about second chances. It depicts a complex caretaker-patient relationship. May-Alice Culhane (Mary McDonnell) is a willful, bitter, soap-opera star whose career is abruptly cut short by an automobile accident, resulting in her paralysis from the waist down. Forced to reestablish herself in her Louisiana childhood home, May-Alice drinks heavily and angrily discharges several caretakers until she meets Chantelle (Alfre Woodard), whose stubbornness matches her own. Chantelle’s no-nonsense approach to her caretaking duties forces May-Alice to confront her limitations and go on with life. It forces them both to forge a new relationship despite their seeming incompatibility.
- Pauline and Paulette Posted in: Caregiving, Families
2001, Belgium (subtitled), 78 min.
The relationship among four elderly sisters is portrayed in this film featuring two of Belgium’s greatest actresses. Pauline (Dora van der Groen), 66 years old and severely mentally challenged, is cared for by her sister Martha. When Martha dies suddenly, her two younger sisters, Paulette (Ann Petersen) and Cecile, must decide who will care for Pauline. According to Martha’s will, her fortune will be divided in three equal parts only if one of the sisters looks after Pauline. If they decide to institutionalize her, Pauline will be the only heir. Bickering and upheaval ensue when Cecile and Paulette reluctantly rearrange their lives. You will want to notice how life amidst family caretaking obligations confronts popular beliefs about older women and the mentally challenged.
- 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.