Some of 2016’s biggest blockbusters have featured older leading ladies opposite younger men, turning the traditional age dynamic of Hollywood on its head.
So what’s changed in the notoriously youth-obsessed world of Tinseltown?
In her latest role as the immaculate gallerist in fashion designer Tom Ford’s second directorial effort Nocturnal Animals, Amy Adams shines. The fact that she stars as the love interest of a significantly younger male lead ( Jake Gyllenhaal, seven years Adams’ junior) has barely been mentioned by critics or audiences.
It’s a fairly recent innovation that a lead female actress can be more than a decade older than her on-screen beau without causing a stir. A quarter-of-a-century ago movies like Hamlet, featuring Mel Gibson in the title role and Glenn Close as Gertrude, elicited controversy. In real life Gibson was only nine years younger than his onscreen mother (the Oedipal dynamic, of course, added to the creepy factor).
— Luis G. Chacón (@LuisGChacon) April 24, 2016
Quite a few other classics such as Sunset Boulevard and The Graduate saw the age (and sexuality) of the female lead as a fetish rather than a natural and unremarkable sexual dynamic.
But in 2016 we have actresses who might once have been labeled “cougars” (see Meryl Streep who, at 67, played the partner of a substantially younger Hugh Grant in the recent hit Florence Foster Jenkins) now simply accepted as actresses playing a role.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of the off-screen dynamics we’re increasingly seeing between Hollywood power couples.
Actress Allison Janney, for example, brings her production coordinator boyfriend (20 years her junior) to the hottest Hollywood parties, while professional stage mom Kris Jenner shows off her road manager beau Corey Gamble (25 years younger) at every opportunity.
From Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling, to Julianne Moore and her husband director Bart Freundlich, to the 23-year age difference between Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson and actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, many Hollywood relationships these days are following the pattern of an older woman, younger man.
Maybe it’s all evidence of a shifting power dynamic in in Hollywood. After all, more women earned Oscar nominations in 2016 than ever before. Perhaps as women shatter its glass ceiling, Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for youthful perfectionism is shifting from women to men?
Ivana Massetti producer and founder of Women Occupy Hollywood, an organization that aims to “create an alternative to the Hollywood system,” doesn’t think so. She argues instead that the increase in older females on screen arises because global influences have altered Hollywood’s cultural conventions.
“Both Florence Foster Jenkins and Nocturnal Animals have heavy European Influences,” Massetti explained to Heat Street. “Florence Foster Jenkins had an English director and English production. The other director is gay (giving him a different sensibility from straight white American males) and worked much of his life in Europe.
“The perception of women is different in Europe. In real life and on screen. You have actresses like Charlotte Rampling or wonderful English actresses of a certain age, like Olivia Colman, who are the leads of a show.”
It’s possible, of course, that what is behind the increasing tolerance of ‘older’ females on screen is that older women in Hollywood just don’t look old anymore. Amy Adams might be pushing middle-age but her immaculate face and gravity-defying body tells a different story.
Perhaps then it’s not feminism we should thank for the increase in complex roles for older women but cosmetic surgery.