Tag Archives: movies about seniors and aging

Book Club

Four smart and accomplished ladies have a friendly book club to “stimulate their minds.” But this month, frisky businesswoman Vivian (Jane Fonda) is suggesting Fifty Shades of Grey, which promises to stimulate something else. Sharon (Candice Bergen), a judge and voice of reason doubts it even qualifies as a book, but she is overruled and pretty soon they, along with Diane (Diane Keaton), recently widowed, and Carol (Mary Steenburgen), the only one who is happily married (or married at all, I suppose) are actually reading this month’s selection, which is apparently a pretty rare thing (sorry, Wild).

Fifty Shades of Grey offends me on many levels. Likely not on a prurient one. I can’t be sure though, since I’ve never read it. It offends me because it started out as porn fan fiction about Twilight, which is a book that already offends me for infantilizing MV5BMTU2MjYzMjY2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTYyNjM0NTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,743_AL_literature. But fan fiction should likely stay in the darkest corners of the internet, where it belongs. Instead, easily titillated people with low standards encouraged the author to change the names and publish it as a “book,” which I avoided on principle. Ditto when the movie(s) came out, and you know there aren’t many I miss reviewing, even the stinkers.

When I first heard about this one, I loved it immediately for the terrific ensemble cast, but I was really disappointed about the subject of their book club.  I think older women, and indeed all women, should be free to explore and own their sexuality, but it’s insulting and belittling that it’s come to this. Luckily, the toxic erotica is only the jumping off point, followed by a pretty harmless rom-com. Not a great one, but thanks to fabulous leading ladies, it can’t go completely wrong can it?

And it’s sort of nice to see these ladies getting to live, getting to flirt and travel and nurture friendships, getting to be things others than mothers and grandmothers, which are wonderful things of course but not the only thing. Aging is a sin in Hollywood, and women over 40 are largely viewed by the camera’s lens as sexless. Producers routinely cast young actresses in “old” roles (ie, a 28 year old Angelina Jolie playing 27 year old Colin Farrell’s mother). The year Meryl Streep turned 40 she was offered THREE different roles for a witch. In The First Wives Club, Goldie Hawn’s character explains “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood; ‘Babe’, ‘District Attorney’, and ‘Driving Ms. Daisy.'” In real life, women continue to be interesting, complex human beings at every age, and the stories we tell should reflect that. Book Club is not the answer we really need; it feels more like an extended sitcom episode. But I won’t deny that Bergen, Keaton, Steenburgen, and Fonda are thrilling to watch; they remain magnetic as ever. If I have to put up with a “lethargic pussy” joke I will, but I will continue to hope for better next time. Like maybe a little less glaring whiteness, for starters.

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Humor Me

Nate, a prize-winning playwright, has been writing his most recent play for the last four years. When his wife leaves him, taking his adorable son and his ability to pay rent with her, he’s forced to do the thing he’s always sworn he’d never do – move in with his father, who lives in a retirement community called Cranberry Bog.

Of course, Bob (Elliott Gould) thinks his son is a lazy, stagnant fool who’s wasting his Harvard education, so he puts him to work fluffing and folding towels in the Cranberry Bog laundry. And Nate’s talents are further wasted by producing a portion of a musical number with the local community players, ie, old ladies who are unequal parts cranky humor-me-stilland horny. Nate (Jemaine Clement) would like to reconnect with his father, but the two have been distant since the death of Nate’s mother – and he was always closest to her. Other people think Bob is very funny, but since his answers to all of Nate’s very serious questions are always jokes, the two men remain separate in their grief.

I have loved Clement since his days on Flight of the Conchords. His performance in Humor Me is more grounded in reality than usual, infusing this sad-sack with some quirks and personality tics that give Nate some real warmth. Of course, I have loved Elliott Gould for much, much longer, and his diverse professional background is evident in every line, not all of which are truly worthy of him, but he never lets them down. In fact, I’d say the casting and performances in this film are its greatest asset. Ingrid Michaelson, Maria Dizzia, Priscilla Lopez, Joey Slotnick, Willie Carpenter, Le Clanché du Rant, Rosemary Prinz, Annie Potts, and Bebe Neuwirth fill in the gaps between Bob and Nate, creating a living, breathing community not easily conveyed through film.

Humor Me manages a delicate balance that often errs on the side of comedy. It’s light, and if it’s not exactly fresh, it has a lot of talent backing up the retreads.

 

 

Humor Me is screening at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival tonight, 8pm, at the Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 5, and May 10, 9pm, at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. Check it out, and bring your dad.

 

Lucky

Lucky is an old man, a washed up cowboy who’s living out his remaining years in a small town where his routine means everything to him: a daily glass of milk, some exercise, coffee and crosswords at the local diner, devotion to his game shows. Just because he’s alone doesn’t mean he’s lonely. But then a brush with his mortality reminds him that death comes for all of us, and he starts reevaluating a thing or two.

We missed seeing Lucky at SXSW this year; our schedule was packed and we had to hds_photocredit_stefaniarosinichoose between several old-guy movies (we ended up seeing The Hero and The Ballad of Lefty Brown). We can’t regret seeing either of those movies, both are good, but there is one mitigating factor. Harry Dean Stanton, star of Lucky, died last month at the age of 91. And there is, I believe, a difference between watching an old man come to grips with his age and death’s proximity, and watching a man who we know was actually met his maker be confronted with his expiration date on screen and admit to us all that he is scared. Oof.

How does a 90 year old atheist feel about death’s encroachment? You’ll see it all on Stanton’s face. The years have visibly burdened him, he walks with a heavy but purposeful gait, his shoulders sloping under the effects of time and the weight of the unknown. And though he makes various connections, a surprisingly diverse variety of connections for a man of his generation, we’re very much aware that in the end, everyone dies alone. This film has moments of genuine warmth and delight, but it’ll also make you feel his emptiness, his isolation, his fear. And if that’s not enough to completely gut you, director John Carroll Lynch wrenches the very last drops of our humanity from us with the help of my favouritest favourite Johnny Cash song. So you just can’t help be hollowed out. But Lucky also fills you up. The script accounts for more than a few quirky characters, but it’s Lucky’s persistence and courage that fill us up with hope.

There aren’t enough words to say what a great performance we have here from Stanton. It’s superb. Lucky isn’t the talkiest of fellows but Stanton delivers a meditation on mortality that is the perfect legacy to his lengthy career. He’s magnetic. And we’re all a little luckier having seen this film.

 

The Comedian

Jackie (Robert DeNiro) played a beloved sitcom character at the very beginning of his career, and it seems his fans only want to remember him for that one thing. He’s a stand-up comic now, desperate to rebrand himself, but audiences turn nasty the further he pulls away from his more iconic stuff. So in the style of hot-headed comedians, he allows a heckling fan to draw him into a fight, and of course it’s Jackie who winds up sentenced to community service (among other things).

At the soup kitchen, he meets fellow assaulter Harmony (Leslie Mann), an otherwise 2-h_2016docile woman who is pushed to do violence when she finds her man in bed with another woman. This unlikely pair bonds over their mutual sentence, and agree to do each other a solid: she’ll attend his niece’s wedding with him – he owes money to his brother (Danny DeVito) and his sister-in-law (Patti LuPone) never quits breaking his balls – and he’ll attend a birthday dinner for her disapproving father (Harvey Keitel).

After decades as an insult comic, Jackie is looking to reinvent himself, but the people in his life keep him from doing so. DeNiro trained with real-life comic Jessica Kirson, who also appears in the movie. DeNiro adopts one of her signature moves, in which she whispers to herself while turned away from the audience. Lots of other comedians lend an air of authenticity to Jackie’s world: Brett Butler, Billy Crystal, Jim Norton, Gilbert Gottfried, Hannibal Buress, and more. Unfortunately, the comedy is just about all this movie gets right. I’m not even sure what kind of movie it’s supposed to be: some sort of May-December rom-com? Aging comedian comes of age? Light social commentary?

It doesn’t matter because it doesn’t work on any level. It feels dated, immediately. Cringe-worthy at times. It’s bloated, meandering, and has some pretty bizarre and inexplicable subplots over which I’m still scratching my head. It’s misguided. It’s tired. It has its charming moments but then there’s also a song about poop so I’m just not in a forgiving mood. DeNiro’s choices lately are a betrayal to his talent. Remember him as he was, not as he appears in this stinker.

The Leisure Seeker

This movie is about a couple of charming runaways on the lam. They haven’t committed any crimes but they’re keen to evade the responsibilities that weigh on them at home. We’ve seen lots of movies about people on the open road, but we’ve rarely seen a man beleaguered by Alzheimer’s helming a large winnebago while his cancer-stricken wife navigates and their adult children are panicking at home.

Ella (Helen Mirren) should be in the hospital receiving treatment, but instead she’s choosing this one last hurrah before Alzheimer’s has her husband John (Donald Sutherland) completely within its clutches. The Leisure Seeker is the name of their the-leisure-seekerbeloved RV, and this road trip is designed to trigger memories of happier times – their young family at play, their former selves in love. It’s obvious that the ‘in love’ part has never really faded for Ella and John, and maybe this is why it’s so hard for her to cope when he can’t remember who she is.

The pair hit the interstate armed with pecan logs, slides of old photos, and yes, a gun. This film is a moving eulogy to all the things that are slipping away – not just for John and Ella personally, but also perhaps on a more national scale (like a sense of community for one – though attempts to be any more political feel out of place). But as John’s moments of lucidity grow shorter and Ella’s anguish grows deeper. The Leisure Seeker is pointed toward Florida but we can’t deny what they’re truly headed for.

Mirren and Sutherland make the movie of course – the camera rarely strays from this couple so strongly bonded they can’t even bear to sleep in separate beds. Sutherland spins the dial on the many shades of dementia, his face quietly registering all of them. Mirren wears a cheerful mask but Ella’s pain and smouldering anger never disappear completely. This Brit and her Canadian costar make watching this American road trip movie worth while – even if their Italian director doesn’t quite get it right. The acting, however, is everything, and the casting is spot-on even if Mirren is inconsistent with her southern accent. Just as we’re meeting them, they’re getting ready to say their goodbyes. This is a bittersweet journey, and you’re welcome to tag along. You can leave your gun at home, but do pack some tissues.

Our Souls At Night

Actor-comedian Patton Oswalt lost his wife suddenly in April 2016. He was very vocal in his grief following her death so it took people by surprise when he announced his engagement barely a year later. Some were critical. I, however, wish him nothing but the best, and I’d wish the same for Sean if he were ever in the same spot. I know a little about love and grief, and how they are not mutually exclusive. I’d also never want Sean to feel lonely.

That’s how Louis (Robert Redford) and Addie (Jane Fonda) are feeling when we first meet them – lonely. Both of their spouses are long dead and they’ve each been leading pretty Fondasolitary existences up until Addie gets up the courage to ring Louis’s doorbell and invites herself in for a chat and a little proposal. Why not sleep together, she suggests. No, not sex. Sex doesn’t interest her. But the nights are long. Very long. Couldn’t they come to some arrangement? After thinking on it, he agrees, so off he goes in his best blue plaid shirt, to have a platonic sleepover with a neighbour he’s lived alongside for decades but never really known.

I’m often critical about movies starring senior citizens. So many feel demeaning, unworthy of their subjects, but I must admit, this new one from Netflix feels invigorating and authentic. Addie clearly has agency. They both have plenty to offer. Of course they’re not immune to aging but they’re also not done living, and that was fantastic to see on the big screen.

Jane Fonda and Robert Redford both accepted Lifetime Achievement awards here at the our-souls-at-night'-will-reunite-'barefoot-in-the-park'-stars-robert-redford-and-jane-fondaVenice Film Festival, in a ceremony preceding the screening of their new film. They’ve co-starred in movies before: The Chase (1966), Barefoot in the Park (1967), and The Electric Horseman (1979); this is their first in 38 years. To mark the occasion, Fonda said “It was fun to kiss him in my 20s and then to kiss him again in my almost-80s.” I have to say, it was fun for the audience, too. Yes, it’s great to see mature faces getting meaty roles, but you’re also getting a masterclass in acting. These two make it look easy. Their chemistry feels effortless.

nintchdbpict000349666861Of course, if you’re looking for classic, cheesy romance, this isn’t it. Louis and Addie are too wise for that. They have responsibilities, baggage, obligations. Kent Haruf, who wrote the novel upon which this film is based, knew a little about that. He wrote his book under a death sentence: he was 71, and he finished it just months before he died of lung cancer. The novel was published posthumously, so Louis and Addie are his legacy. Fonda and Redford would have made him proud.

This is an excellent movie from Netflix that will be available for streaming later this month.

Out To Sea

Herb and Charlie are best friends and brothers-in-law. Herb is the responsible one, Charlie the scamp. So of course it’s Charlie’s idea to scam a free cruise by pretending to be a dance instructor, and to trick his recently widowed bud Herb into doing the same (though at least Herb’s got some legit moves).

Of course, Charlie’s hoping to do more than just dance on this cruise; he’s hoping to score himself a rich wife. Herb (Jack Lemmon), still in love with his deceased wife, is not ready lemmon-and-matthau.jpgfor the swinging bachelor existence Charlie has planned for them on board, but that’s only half his trouble. A snarky entertainment director is on to them and their little ruse could cost them thousands of dollars that neither can afford (hello, gambling my old friend!) if found out and no amount of Rue McClanahan flirtation can save them.

Matthau and Lemmon are of course good for some madcap hilarity. I’m struck by how physical Matthau’s comedy continues to be into his old age. This movie is pretty stupid plot-wise, but the chemistry between old pals Matthau and Lemmon is tonnes of fun and magical as ever. This is the 9th of their 10 collaborations and you never get tired of seeing them together. Does it make up for a weak script? Not really. But if you’re reaching all the way back to 1997, you’re doing it because these are beloved figures who crack you up doing their soft-shoe shtick, not because you’re expecting to uncover a hidden gem that’s somehow lain dormant for two decades. Jack and Walt were the OGs as far as Bromance is concerned. Matt and Ben have a long way to go before we’re willing to let them flirt so shamelessly with our grandmas.