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 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.
- Gran Torino Posted in: Friendships, Midlife, Single, Widowed or Divorced
2008, USA, 116 min.
Retired autoworker and Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood, who also directed) refuses to embrace the evolving world. Despite his neighborhood’s changing demographics and plummeting safety, he’s not moving from his Detroit home. When a gang skirmish involving his Hmong neighbors spills onto his front lawn, Walt intercedes—and gains the family’s respect. Walt’s simmering xenophobia is challenged by his growing admiration for the household’s two English-speaking teens (Bee Vang, Ahney Her). He softens into a protector, teaching them the gritty intricacies of American life, and regains his own purpose. Gran Torino shows how youth benefit from the knowledge and courage of their elders—if the older generation believes in the future rather than fears it. The same way the characters are pulled together by Walt’s prized possession (the titular American muscle car), a multigenerational swath of viewers will love this film’s big heart and integrity.
- Harry and Tonto Posted in: Caregiving, Families, Later Life Quests
1974, USA, 115 min.
Art Carney stars as Harry in this comedy/drama about a retired teacher, septuagenarian and widower who is forced to leave his home in New York City to make way for a parking garage. Harry decides to look for a better life. First, he goes to live with his son, Burt, and his family but soon discovers that adding another member to that household is easier said than done. Harry and his beloved cat, Tonto, are off on a cross-country journey to discover their new niche in life. As they make their way west to visit Harry’s daughter (Ellen Burstyn) and son (Larry Hagman), they meet an assortment of characters including a young hitchhiker, a hooker and Chief Dan George. Each new character becomes a part of Harry’s life, placing a special emphasis on intergenerational friendships and on the wisdom of life experience.
- Atlantic City Posted in: Midlife
1981, USA, 104 min.
Against the backdrop of decay and renewal in 1970s Atlantic City, French director Louis Malle presents a story of redemption and triumph. The film stars Burt Lancaster as Lou Pasco, a small-time mobster past his prime who dreams of becoming a powerful and respected criminal. Susan Sarandon plays Sallie Matthews, anxious to pursue her future as an aspiring croupier, who dreams of a better life in Monte Carlo. Atlantic City itself serves as a metaphor for the lost hopes of the past and the chances and possibilities of the future.
- Since Otar Left Posted in: Caregiving, Families
2004, France (subtitled), 103 min.
Julie Bertucelli directs this film about three strong-willed women—mother, daughter and granddaughter—living together in Tbilisi, capital of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Eka, the family matriarch, portrayed by 90-year-old actress Esther Gorintin, lives for her son, Otar, a physician who has become a construction worker in Paris. Her middle-aged daughter, Marina, remains a single woman struggling with the disappointments of her life. She is forced to compete with Otar for their mother’s approval. Eka’s rebellious granddaughter, Ada, seeks to break away from the family and embark on her own life. When the two younger women learn that Otar has been killed accidentally, they see chances for their own freedom but decide to conceal this news from Eka, knowing she would be heart broken. As family affections evolve into deception and duplicity, they set in motion events that will change the course of each woman’s life.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…