Hollywood’s Fascination With Aging Is Getting Old

Every movie I go to now stars people my age and older who are suffering. I can't take it anymore.

For a long time there weren’t very many movies about people over 50. Mature filmgoers, like me, were always kvetching: “Why don’t they make movies for grown-ups?”

Be careful what you wish for. Today, it seems, that’s all they’re making.
Personally, I’ve had enough of them.

I can’t stand seeing what their characters are going through. I know that their sufferings will soon be mine, if they aren’t already.
Over the weekend I saw Quartet, which is set in a home for aging musicians in the English countryside. It stars Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly — all in their 70s. They play opera stars who once worked together. Their vocal talents have faded and their bodies are falling apart. The movie’s director, Dustin Hoffman, is 76.
Everyone in the audience was laughing at the warm-hearted comedy. Not me. I was too busy identifying with all of the characters’ ailments: Smith needs a new hip and can hardly walk. At one point in the movie I did a good impression of her. My right hamstring cramped, causing me to leap out of my seat and hop up and down the theater aisle until the muscle relaxed. Connolly has an enlarged prostate that makes him urinate all the time. I know how he feels. I had a Coke with my popcorn. Ten minutes after I drank it, I had to get up and use the men’s room. Collins has dementia and keeps forgetting where she leaves her handbag. I thought of her after the film ended, as I wandered around the parking garage looking for my car.

(MORE: The Lighter Side of Senior Moments)
Playing at the same theater is the Oscar-winning, Amour, which I saw two weekends ago. My serotonin levels are still trying to rebound. In this extremely depressing film, Jean-Louis Trintignant plays a devoted husband who tries to take care of his wife (Emmanuelle Riva, in an Oscar-nominated performance) after she has a series of strokes that leave her paralyzed. Both actors are in their 80s. I remember them from the French New Wave. I was thrilled to see them working again. But couldn’t they have remade A Man and a Woman instead?
Before Quartet started, there was a preview for a new Vanessa Redgrave film, Song of Marion. In it, the 76-year-old actress plays a terminally ill woman who finds solace by enthusiastically singing in a church choir. Terrance Stamp, 75, plays her grumpy husband. When I was in high school in the 1960s, I went to art houses in Berkeley, Calif., to see their films: Redgrave in Morgan, Isadora and Blowup; Stamp in Billy Budd, The Collector and Far From the Madding Crowd. Now I can see them together!
But do I want to? The clip for Song of Marion shows Redgrave and her fellow choristers rapping Salt-N-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex.” It looked to me like Amour, the hip-hop version.

Be Afraid, Even More to Come
So popular was last year’s Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that talks of a sequel are under way. Judi Dench, 78, and Maggie Smith, 79, are said to be reprising their roles. In the first version, Smith’s character retires in India so she can afford to get a hip replacement — this seems to be a theme in Dame Maggie’s movies lately. The filmmakers say they’re hoping to add Helen Mirren to the cast. I guess they want some younger blood. She’s a mere 67.
I hope they don’t make a sequel out of last year’s Hope Springs, which starred Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. They played a married couple that goes to a sex therapist to revive their love life. I’m fully aware that aging brings loss of libido and erectile dysfunction. I need to pay good money to be reminded?
The latest figures from the American Motion Picture Association of America show that more than 3 million Americans between the ages of 50 and 59 go to the movies. Since that number keeps growing, you can expect more films aimed at boomers, said a recent article in The Los Angeles Times. I can’t wait. God knows what’s coming — movies about varicose veins, liver spots, night blindness, incontinence?
Or a pot-dealing granny whose daughter hates her? A septuagenarian, ex-con jewel thief with dementia? An aging airline pilot with a cocaine addiction? But they already did those last year (Peace, Love and Misunderstanding, Jane Fonda; Robot & Frank, Frank Langella; and Flight, Denzel Washington.)

(More: Why 'Girls' Is a Must-See Show for Anyone Over 50)
This coming weekend I’ve decided to treat myself to a movie that isn't about Alzheimer’s, joint replacements, strokes or having to live out one’s golden years in a rundown hotel in Jaipur. I’m going to see an action-thriller that has nothing to do with growing old, and that young people are flocking to!
It’s called A Good Day to Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis. Oh, wait. He’s pushing 60.

John Stark
By John Stark
John Stark is a veteran writer, editor and journalist who lives in Palm Springs, California. He can be reached at [email protected]

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