Friday, June 5, 2020

Senioritis: Is Hollywood Rediscovering Ageing Boomers?

It’s not easy being (ahem!) a person of a certain age. In the COVID-19 era, Seniors are considered particularly vulnerable. We’re constantly warned about interacting with others, and so we’re stuck at home with our TV sets, watching the young and the beautiful cavort and canoodle. And then there are those commercials, reminding us of the failings of our bodies, and recommending denture creams, diabetes cures, and Viagra. (Thank heavens for cable!)

I applaud Erica Manfred, a fellow member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, who has managed to turn her age into an asset. As a longtime Florida-based freelance journalist, she now specializes in the needs and aspirations of senior citizens. She writes about technology, health, and financial matters from a senior perspective. And she also has her eye on the entertainment world, chronicling how Seniors are portrayed on both the big and the small screens. On a site called Senior Planet she writes approvingly about Game of Thrones, praising the long-running series for making its elder characters—like Diana Rigg’s Olenna Tyrell—some of the saga’s most complex and interesting.

In a 2015 piece on the same site, she compares two dramatic films that showcase ageing rockers looking back on what they gave up to become who they are. In Danny Collins, Al Pacino plays a once-heartthrob who now makes a tidy living playing nostalgia gigs, all the while consumed with self-loathing. Ricki and the Flash, which was Jonathan Demme’s final feature, puts the spotlight on Meryl Streep as an Indianapolis wife and mother who long ago broke with her family to launch a showbiz career. She’s now a music-industry also-ran, working as a checker in an L.A. supermarket while also headlining the house band at a rowdy Tarzana hangout called the Salt Well. But she’s  suddenly summoned back home when a crisis befalls her grown daughter (played by Streep’s actual daughter, Mamie Gummer), and the rest of the film deals with her unsteady reconciliation with the family she left behind. As Manfred sagely puts it, “There’s nothing all that new about regret and remorse, but Ricki and the Flash might have put its finger on a predicament that’s fairly unique to aging Boomers; we were the first generation to claim self-fulfillment as our birthright, and many of us chose to put duty and responsibility aside to follow our dreams.” She also notes, “Women, especially, grapple with family versus career, and may have given up one for the other. As Ricki says bitterly at one point, ‘No one blames Mick Jagger for leaving his family to play music.’” 

 For, Manfred highlights what she sees as “the encouraging greying of Hollywood.” Noting the enormous box office success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel, she believes that the movie industry has discovered the growing power of older audiences at the box office. The upshot, she feels, is that more and more recent movies make room for characters who challenge our assumptions about ageing. As a result, some of our best actors are given an opportunity to play juicy roles that go far beyond geriatric stereotype: see Robert Redford in The Old Man & the Gun, Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes, Liam Neeson as a credible action hero in a whole slew of suspense dramas. Among older actresses are Lily Tomlin toplining Grandma, Sally Field in Hello, My Name is Doris, Blythe Danner in the romantic and poignant I’ll See You in My Dreams. And of course Tomlin and Jane Fonda  TV’s Grace and Frankie boldly exploring the late-in-life years.


  1. Three cheers to Erica Manfred and also you, Beverly, for showing seniors not only as alive but lively and kicking---from a senior cohort in Atlanta who may be locked down by the virus but still kicking ass.

  2. I love this comment, Jennie. Yes, do keep on kicking ass, as only you can!