Boy Erased and Wrinkles Erased Too: Aging in Hollywood

December 18th, 2018

One positive takeaway from 2018 (and 2017, too) were all the great performances in leading roles from actresses old enough to remember an era where ROE VS. WADE was not the law of the land, few women were elected to either houses of Congress and there were no women on the Supreme Court. At the recent Screen Actors Guild awards ceremony, actress NICOLE KIDMAN made an acute observation about roles for older actresses, “How wonderful it is that our careers today can go beyond forty years old. Twenty years ago we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives. That’s not the case now. We’ve proven that we’re potent and powerful and viable. I just beg that the industry stays behind us.”

I concur.

A we all know Hollywood has not been kind to aging women, a bias documented most effectively in CHRIS WILSON‘s article in TIME MAGAZINE. He writes, “While male actors see their careers peak at the age of 46, female actors reach their professional pinnacles at age 30, according to a Time analysis of the careers of over 6,000 actors and actresses.” Infuriatingly, many talented women age out of the business, while still young, finding themselves unemployable when the wrinkles set in. Inevitably, this reality will lead many of these wonderfully gifted women to seek out invasive cosmetic procedures in a bid to preserve their youthful looks. And while I sympathize with their plight, it makes me cringe to think that this obsession with youth will drive well established performers, especially women, to camouflage, even disguise their true faces in order to maintain their careers. I want mature actresses to look the age they are playing, to look appropriate for the character. I dread to think that there could come a time when leading roles featuring mature women no longer accurately depict how we actually look. It’s difficult to imagine how the erasure of realistic images of older women from cinema will not have implications for society at large, especially for those of the female persuasion.

Let’s return to Nicole Kidman for a moment. She is an actress who has movingly portrayed so many strong characters over the past two decades ranging from writer Virginia Woolf to a religious woman with children waiting for her husband to return home from World War II to the headmistress of an all-girls school during the Civil War. I have great respect for her artistry, but in her most recent role, her unrealistic appearance for a middle aged woman did not meld with the character.

The film BOY ERASED is a recent release which stars Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe as the parents of a teenage son who is forced to undergo conversion therapy to cure his “homosexual tendencies.” It is a well done film based on the memoir of writer Garrard Conley. Crowe and Kidman portray a middle aged, small-town Baptist minister and his wife. The events in the memoir occurred in 2004. According to published reports, the mother Kidman portrays is now sixty- four, meaning Kidman plays a fifty-year old woman. Watching the film, however, it’s difficult to believe Kidman is old enough to be the mother of a college kid at all, let alone a half-century year old woman. Not a wrinkle or line in sight. Her appearance disrupted the suspension of disbelief in regards to both character and story. Meanwhile, actor Russell Crowe looked completely believable for the role; that of a paunchy, overweight middle-aged man who has wrinkles, crowfeet, and horror upon horrors, a double chin. It’s challenging to understand what a young, flawless, movie-star-looking woman like Kidman would have seen in her on-screen husband with his domineering presence and intolerance towards their son.

I am by no means condemning Nicole Kidman for her youthful looks. I am questioning a film industry that doesn’t allow older women to appear as most of us are with some wrinkles and sag. We shouldn’t be denied the dignity of seeing ourselves portrayed on the big screen in a way that is natural and reflective of how most of us appear. In the film DESTROYER, Kidman plays a detective with the LAPD, and based on the trailer, appears completely suitable for the role. She has recently been nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance, indicating critics will celebrate the efforts of a talented woman not afraid of depicting a middle-aged woman in a realistic manner. This film is receiving positive word of mouth so audiences may embrace the film as well. This gives me hope.

It is also encouraging to see how many actresses aren’t falling in to line with the inevitable pressure put on them to look twenty-five at forty-five, perhaps suggesting a move to naturalism. The recent performances of Frances McDormand in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE, EBBING, MISSOURI Annette Bening in FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL, and Sally Hawkins in THE SHAPE OF WATER were all the more rewarding for their lack of artifice and embrace of realism. Perhaps I am overly optimistic, but I am encouraged that the recent spate of great performances from actresses comfortable in their non-botoxed skin might signal that women in the film industry are starting to rebel and push back against this absurd double standard.




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