Nicholson seems to being playing type, not merely in terms of previous roles but also echoing his reputation in the tabloid press. Sally Chivers contends that ‘[Nicholson's] Hollywood persona is vital to the portrayals of his aging characters’ (37). Julie Birchill's comment in her Sunday Times column is representative of his image; she writes that she has lost count of the number of ‘photo[s] of Jack Nicholson romping on a yacht with a brace of beauties young enough to be his fourth or fifth wives’ (Para. 2 of 10). In an interview with Empire magazine, Nicholson confirmed that Nancy Myers—writer, director and producer of Something's Gotta Give—wrote the role with him in mind. Indeed, despite his continuing reputation, the plot seems to be reflective of Nicholson's own view of aging; in Empire he commented that ‘All good things come to an end. I'm not much of a raver anymore—I think it's sort of unattractive and inappropriate’ (Para. 12 of 18).
Romancing the Crone: Hollywood's Recent Mature Love Stories
Article first published online: 17 MAR 2013
© 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
The Journal of American Culture
Special Issue: Love and Romance in American Culture Guest Edited by Maryan Wherry
Volume 36, Issue 1, pages 42–51, March 2013
How to Cite
Hobbs, A. (2013), Romancing the Crone: Hollywood's Recent Mature Love Stories. The Journal of American Culture, 36: 42–51. doi: 10.1111/jacc.12012
- Issue published online: 17 MAR 2013
- Article first published online: 17 MAR 2013
In the introduction to Falling in Love, Stacey Abbott and Deborah Jermyn contend that romantic comedy as a genre has been consistently critically overlooked, that romcoms are considered “trite or lightweight,” “slavishly formulaic,” and “inherently frivolous and anti-intellectual” (2). However, as they argue, this popular assumption “fails to recognise adequately […] issues raised by the genre” (2); indeed, that romcoms reflect changes in society proves the evolving nature of the genre. Alongside the impact of divorce and mixed race relationships, Abbott and Jermyn suggest that “the figure of the older woman as a viable heroine” is another such subject matter (3). It is the inclusion of mature characters, both male and female, that this article considers. Tamar Jeffers McDonald asserts that “the assumption [is] that romantic comedies are films made for and enjoyed by women audience members” (1), so it makes sense that in Something's Gotta Give (2003), Last Chance Harvey (2008) and It's Complicated (2009) it is the women who are the stronger, more independent characters, while it is the men who flounder in their late middle-age. While both genders benefit from a later life romance, in these films, it is the male characters who seem to follow what McDonald dubs the archetypal “quest for love” (9), and the female characters who need to be convinced of the relationship's merit.
In recent years, a spate of films has centered on older characters. These include comedies, such as The Bucket List (2007) and the Pixar animation Up (2009), revenge dramas like Gran Torino (2008) and the lesser but similar Harry Brown (2009), ensemble action movies with older casts, including The Expendables (2010) and Red (2010), and issues films, with Away From Her (2006), which rendered the heartbreaking effects of Alzheimer's on an older couple, and The Savages (2007), which considered issues surrounding elderly care. There have also been a number of romantic comedies with dual mature leads. While older male leads in romcoms have never been uncommon—Six Days Seven Nights (1998) with Harrison Ford and Anne Heche and As Good As It Gets (1997) with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt spring to mind—the dual romantic lead has been rather unusual until the last decade. Of course, America is an aging society and with scientists reporting that the majority of Americans will live longer, it makes sense that Hollywood should take advantage of what is known as the gray dollar and provide films that reflect an older audience. Equally influential in this decision might be the older actors, writers, and directors working in the industry; as Sally Chivers explains,
The ongoing influence of the famous among aging boomers—and the latter's demographic weight—has resulted in a growing number of notable actors, like [Harrison] Ford, remaining onscreen later into their lives, unafraid to look if not act their ages, and changing the “face” of Hollywood. (xv)
Clearly, then, Hollywood is motivated, as ever, by monetary gain, but this notwithstanding the fact remains that the demographics of stars and storylines are diversifying to include those in older age.
The three Hollywood love stories chosen represent gendered aging in a similar way. In Something's Gotta Give, Jack Nicholson plays Harry Sanborn, a serial dater of younger women, who, while dating the daughter, Marin, has a heart attack and falls for the mother, Erica Barry, played by Diane Keaton, as she begrudgingly looks after him. The pair form an unlikely but short-lived couple. Nonetheless, the affair gives Erica the confidence to look for love with a younger man, and prompts Harry to consider his lifestyle and relationship choices. After this reflective period, the pair discovers that they are suited to each other after all and they end the film together. Last Chance Harvey stars Dustin Hoffman as Harvey Shine, a divorced advertising music exec given one last chance to land a big account. This ultimatum coincides with the weekend he must travel to London for his daughter's wedding. It is here that he meets Kate Walker, played by Emma Thompson, who is a perpetually single airport employee, caring for her demanding mother. The two meet properly when he misses his flight home and consequently loses his job. Harvey and Kate spend a companionable day together, with Kate persuading him to return to the evening wedding reception, after which they agree to meet again at noon the next day. In the intervening hours, Harvey receives a call from work, imploring him to return to the office, but he chooses London and Kate instead. In It's Complicated, divorced couple Jake, played by Alec Baldwin, who has remarried a much younger woman, and Jane, played by Merryl Streep, who has remained single, get back together for a short affair. The reconciliation causes confusion and disruption for their grown children, and eventually Jane ends the relationship for a more suitable love interest, architect Adam, played by Steve Martin.
These mature love stories follow McDonald's synopsis of the normal sequence of events for romantic comedies: “boy meets, loses, regains girl” (12), although in It's Complicated, Jane's two love interests confuse the dynamic somewhat. The added or perhaps enhanced component in these films is the increased amount of life experience and disappointment the mature couples bring to their notions of love and courtship. Obviously, such obstacles and cynicism can be present in romcoms with younger leads but the disillusioned mindset is rather more integral to the plot for older characters, especially for the female protagonists. In the films I consider in this article, the comedy comes less frequently from the situations into which the leads are dropped than the mentalities and approaches to life through which they must work.
Perhaps the most obvious issue that emerges in these films is a self-consciousness of chronological age. Gerontologists Sara Munson Deats and Langretta Tallent Lenker have identified different categorizations of age:
[C]hronological age (the numerical total of years lived), biological age (the strength, health, vigor, and elasticity of the body, which frequently bear little relationship to chronological age), social age (the culturally constructed, often prescriptive behaviors arbitrarily linked to a chronological numeral), and individual age (our own self-image, which is often at variance with all the other markers of age). (9)
The characters in these films struggle to reconcile the status of their biological age with their individual age, and feel challenged by their social age. It is from this complex negotiation that the issue of appropriateness emerges; the films seem to suggest that men are wont to act in ways that are considered outside their social age, while women worry over whether their behavior conforms to what is appropriate for their social age. For example, Something's Gotta Give begins with Harry's voiceover:
Ah, the sweet, uncomplicated satisfaction of the younger woman. That fleeting age when everything just falls right into place. It's magic time and it can render any man anywhere absolutely helpless. Some say I'm an expert on the younger woman. I guess that's cause I've been dating them for over forty years.
If we do not understand the inappropriateness of this from Harry's chucklesome delivery, then the juxtaposition of his old body alongside Marin's young one confirms it.1
Appropriateness is a key theme of It's Complicated too; Jake has left his wife Jane for Agness, who is at least twenty years his junior. Jake seems to have been attracted to her because the age difference gave him control in the relationship; he tells Jane, “Agness started out really looking up to me. We never used to fight.” However, that dynamic has shifted and for the duration of the film, Agness seems to dominate. She brings her young son Pedro to the marriage, and Jake struggles to keep up with his energy; he admits to Jane, “My marriage is not turning out as I hoped. That's obvious,” and “I love how quiet it is in your house. I have no quiet in my life. Ever.” Again, the age difference is signified as unseemly through bodily difference. In the first scene with the three of them together at a party, the audience sees Agness in very casual clothes that show off her tattooed shoulders. Conversely, both Jake and Jane are formally and fully dressed in suits. The clothes here not only represent issues with body image, but also suggest a more restrained—or buttoned-up—attitude to life that fits their mature years. While Jake and Jane do not end the film together, due to their commensurate ages, the couple are much more suited to each other than Jake and Agness, who are at different stages in their lives; as Jake comments, “[S]he thinks we need a bigger house, more help. I was hoping to cut back at work, but now that's never going to happen. And she wants another baby….” In both Something's Gotta Give and It's Complicated, Harry and Jake fall for a mature woman after seducing and being seduced by younger women. In both instances, they must accept their chronological and biological age to become part of a mature couple and family, which is appropriate for their social age.
The relationship in Last Chance Harvey is perhaps a little different from those in the other two films as Dustin Hoffman is twenty-two years Emma Thompson's senior, and indeed only four years younger than Eileen Atkins, who plays her mother. This age difference is made clear by Kate's plot-line being associated with her mother and Harvey's being tied to his daughter. Nonetheless, this relationship is not one of those improper pairings previously described. In this film, inappropriate affairs are represented by Kate's father's estrangement from her mother, caused by his liaison with his secretary. Kate and Harvey's issues are those of later life. Whereas Jake and Agness clash over whether to have a baby, there is no such question in Last Chance Harvey. Kate has accepted that she will not be a mother, as shown by the scene in which Kate reveals an abortion she had many years ago, as the pair sit at Somerset House at dawn. She wonders how the baby would have grown up, then finishes her thoughts by commenting, “I don't know. It's silly.” This seems to be her last word on motherhood; it is not a role she will ever undertake, and her admission that Harvey is the only person she has ever told, and that this takes place at dawn, suggests that she is now ready to move forward with her life and with Harvey. Thus, despite the problem of distance, their lifestyles are suited; when Kate asks how the relationship will work, Harvey replies, “I have no idea. But it will. I promise you that.”
The unsuitable partners that men seem to crave is viewed as immaturity by the female characters, who tend to define themselves more by their responsibilities than their freedom. All three women give a sense of stability to families who have lost male influence; Erica and Jane provide this for their children, and Kate has given this to her mother since her father left her for his much younger secretary. Yet these nurturing roles have come at a price; mature women become invisible to men. In Something's Gotta Give, Zoe, the women's studies lecturer sister, defines older women not only against men but younger women too:
Harry, you've been around the block a few times, right? What are you, around 60? 63. Fantastic. Never married, which, as we know, if you were a woman, would be a curse. You'd be an old main, a spinster. So instead of pitying you, they write articles about you. Celebrate your never marrying. You're elusive and ungettable. A real catch […]. She's over 50, divorced, and she sits in night after night after night because the available guys her age, forgive me for saying this, honey, but they want something that looks like Marin. So the whole over-50 dating scene is geared toward men, leaving older women out. And as a result, the women become more and more productive and, therefore, more and more interesting. Which in turn makes them even less desirable because, as we know, men, especially older men, are threatened and deathly afraid of productive and interesting women. It is so clear! Single older women as a demographic are about as fucked a group as can ever exist!
This establishes two interrelated points based on gender stereotypes: men, it is generalized, ignore social, and perhaps chronological, age and hope to persuade themselves of their youth with sex; whereas women, well aware of the physical changes to their body, use creativity to offset other diminished roles. In these films at least, approaches to aging are engendered and hierarchized, with women's attitude deemed the more positive and healthy response. As might be expected for films that are presumed to engage women, it is the women who are the saner, more well-adjusted mature adults.
Yet while the films comment on the appropriateness of male behavior and indicate that older women are socially marginalized, it is curious that of the female leads in these three films, the oldest was only sixty when the film was released. Thus, although the age of a romantic heroine may have been increased, perhaps there is still a ceiling in a way that there is not for the male lead; Dustin Hoffmann, for example, was sixty-nine when Last Chance Harvey was released. Jermyn explains why this might be:
Older women would seem to be unlikely romcom protagonists, given also the genre's thematic preoccupation with finding a mate and settling down. Typically, from midlife if not before, by virtue of their age they are excluded and erased from our everyday sexual economy, which overwhelmingly privileges the lithe bodies and unlined faces of young women and girls. (26)
Therefore, the threshold for marginalization has been relaxed rather than completely removed.
Despite the diminished social position women face, the female characters begin the films as independent individuals. All live alone, but are surrounded by friends and family. Kate is loved and protected by her work friends and kept busy by her mother; Jane is clearly the center of the family and is connected to the community through her bakery; and Erica has close relationships with both her sister and her daughter. Interestingly, the audience does not see the men with friends; as Jermyn notes of Harvey but is equally true of Jake, “By comparison, all [his] relationships—with his boss, his daughter, his ex-wife—seem fraught” (30). While Harry's relationships may not be fraught, this is because they are marked by impermanence and a lack of responsibility. Thus, it is the women who are the more stable and connected gender.
Further demonstrating their independence, the women all have successful jobs, and are fulfilling their creativity through their pastimes. Feminist critics have argued that women are more affected by age than men; Barbara Frey Waxman concurs with Simone de Beauvoir that old women are doubly disadvantaged by being a woman in old age. Consequently, Waxman asserts, women are more driven, and find it necessary, to address their experiences through cultural output. She has noted that women tend to write novels that show women “ripening toward death in a fruitful way” (2), with Sylvia B. Henneberg terming such female writers “creative crones”. This seems to be reflected in the films, where the women, now without men and successful in their careers, are driven to express themselves and come to terms with their solitary experience of aging through artistic or educational endeavor. For example, Kate, a busy manager at a Heathrow airport, makes time for a creative writing course after work, traveling across several tube zones to the South Bank. She still has ambition, albeit quite modest; she says she would like to write a book, which she describes as “not Middlemarch or anything… [but] a really good holiday read. For the beach or a plane. I think I've got one of those inside me.” Similarly, Jane is a chef with a successful bakery/deli; yet she comes to terms with her children leaving home by assisting in the design of an extension to her house, which will fulfill her ambition to have a large kitchen and give her an area in which to be creative. Lastly, Erica is a famous playwright, who, when her husband left her, embarked upon learning fluent French. In these films, all the women have faced disappointment but they have used it as a chance to expand their horizons. They have adjusted to their age and instead of mourning what they may no longer have, begin a new creative period; they are “creative crones.”
However—and this is where these romantic films complicate Waxman's praise of creative crones without men—while these women are content, they are aware that their lives are not completely satisfactory, not entirely whole. Roberta Garrett has argued that “The romantic comedy—as the predominant contemporary women's form—is also the most closely associated with the discourse of post-feminism” (94). While recent romcoms are not overtly critical of second wave feminism, the fact that all the heroines are conventionally attractive—even in their mature years—and desire heterosexual companionship may at first seem problematic to reconcile in a post-feminist age. Yet Garrett contends:
Despite having a career and material aspirations, being able to support themselves financially and having supportive friends, there is a persistent sense of lack associated with their singleton status. In a manner typical of post-feminist attitudes, their independence and career aspirations are downgraded in favor of the pursuit of “personal” happiness, understood in relation to men. But the form's use of irony and allusionism also undercuts the traditional gender-coded fantasy, as does the female figures' insistence on a more equal relationship. (94)
While the type of comedy employed assuages any anti-feminist implications, these selected films seem to suggest although the women have accepted their single lives, this is not the ideal. For example, Jane tells Adam, “The truth is, in my current bathroom I have two sinks and sometimes the other sink makes me feel bad.” Her single status makes her feel as if she is lacking in some way. Similarly, in one of the final scenes in Last Chance Harvey, Kate explains to Harvey how her expectations of romance have changed now she is a middle-aged woman: “You see, what I think it is is, I think that I'm more comfortable with being disappointed. I think I'm angry with you for trying to take that away.” Kate has accepted that she is no longer desirable and Harvey has disrupted this acquiescence. Indeed, women seem to have been conditioned to expect much less after a certain age; Jermyn illustrates this through an incident earlier in the film where Kate is set up on a blind date. After Kate's friend and her husband leave the newly introduced couple, their date is gatecrashed by a younger circle of his friends; to escape the awkward situation, Kate sits in the ladies’ bathroom and is seen struggling to hold back her tears. Jermyn contends that this upset stems only partially from humiliation: “they are [also] for the compounded disappointment that the night represents; for all the lost hopes, all the dates that, like this one, have never culminated in her meeting ‘the one’” (30).
While the female characters can be content, then, the films suggest that they deserve and in fact need a sexual identity to be complete mature individuals. This is shown by Erica's comment that she had “thought she was closed up for business,” and her relief that this is not the case; in a wonderfully symbolic scene, Harry cuts the turtle-neck—the armor of middle-aged women—away from her body, releasing her from her self-imposed and stifling spinsterhood. Comparably, for a long time Kate has been defined by her mother—her mother's calls constantly interrupt her life—but Harvey allows her to explore another identity, one where she can accept that she is attractive and the center of attention in a way that she was not on her blind date. Significantly, it is when she is with Harvey that she finally tells her mother, “Mum, I love you, but not now.” The conversations between female friends in It's Complicated also indicate the lack of attention afforded mature women; her friend Trisha asks Jane whether she can set her up with a man she met on Match.com but did not like, to which Jane replies, “Oh wow, what a great offer.” Yet it is, the audience understands from the comment about how long it is since she has had sex, the best offer she can expect. Just as programs such as Sex and the City redressed the assumption that libido is fundamentally a male preoccupation, the films dismiss the notion that women are less interested in sexual relationships in and after middle-age. Consequently, it is through the validation of a male partner that the women are able to see themselves as sexual entities once more. If the route to happiness for men is to have to accept their chronological age and that reciprocal age in their partner, then women must rediscover self-confidence in their sexual identity to fully own their mature femininity.
Clearly sex is an integral element of romantic comedies; McDonald summarizes that “[a]t the heart of every romantic comedy is the implication of sex, and settled, secure, within-a-relationship sex at that” (13). However, before the female characters reach this point, the audience is shown that there is a timidity that develops as women mature through middle-age, and this is tied to body image. In the first scene with Kate in Last Chance Harvey, the postman compliments her; he says, “Looking lovelier than ever, Kate. If I was only a younger man.” Kate scoffs and tells him to “Shut up,” unable to believe she might still be attractive, especially to this younger man. Similarly, in It's Complicated, Jane contemplates the extreme of surgery to make herself feel better. Although she admits, “I'm the type of person who kind of makes fun of people who get plastic surgery,” she goes for a consultation to address some saggy skin around her left eye. She runs from the clinic when the surgeon recommends a full brow lift, but, importantly, the episode shows Jane's relationship with her body, which she feels is betraying her—a clear example of biological age not correlating with individual age. Women, then, seem to presume that their bodies should be hidden, as the scene from It's Complicated when Jake asks Jane why he must turn around while she gets dressed shows. She answers Jake's gentle teasing by saying, “Because the last time you saw me standing up naked I was in my 40s. Things look different laying down.” Jake, on the other hand, feels no such embarrassment and happily slaps his rather solid midriff. This sense that mature female bodies should be hidden is reciprocated by Harry's response to walking into Erica's room and finding her naked in Something's Gotta Give; he exclaims, “I'm sorry! God, am I sorry!”
The social conditioning that women over 40 or 50 are not sexually attractive is only broken, according to the films, through the interest of a man. From a feminist perspective this is clearly troubling as female sexual identity rests on the male gaze. However, as Jermyn explicates through a scene in Last Chance Harvey that agitated reviewers, this may be a typical over-simplification this genre. The dress-up montage is incredibly common in romcoms, but in Last Chance Harvey it is subverted and mocked rather than used to privilege aesthetically pleasing femininity. While it is Harvey who finances the shopping spree and who is the audience for a number of outfits that Kate tries on, there are two factors which prevent this scene from reinforcing patriarchal control. Jermyn notes that many of the outfits that Kate dons are utterly ridiculous, and when Kate finally finds the appropriate dress, a simple black one, “there is no lingering and loving close-up on either a radiant Kate or a transfixed Harvey” (29). Here, then, the film prioritizes comedy over romance, and Kate's personality over her beauty. A cynic might argue that this is because Kate is no longer youthful and so the audience would not expect such a reaction from Harvey, but Garrett asserts that this is a wider trend in romantic comedies:
One of the most broadly appealing aspects of the new cycle may be that it revives a particularly dizzy brand of romance, but tempers it with a postmodernist irony, allowing the clued-up contemporary “post”-feminist viewer to have it all: to indulge in the derided pleasures associated with the romance fantasy or weepie woman's film while also maintaining a degree of critical distance. (103)
Importantly, women are not the only ones who have body issues in these films. In a reversal of stereotypes, it is Adam who has a similar dress-up montage in It's Complicated.
Men's bodies are not left uncommented upon, but the comments pertain to the biological rather than the aesthetic. The issue of mature male sexuality is conceptualized in physical terms; for example, in the sex scene in Something's Gotta Give, Harry looks down and comments, “Well, well. Now look who's got something that works.” Erica congratulates him, “And you didn't even take any Viagra!” Yet Harry's reply, “Kiss me before you make it go away,” shifts the focus, and indeed the responsibility, from male physicality back to the aesthetic of the female body. Also pertaining to sexual dysfunction, in It's Complicated Jake is forced to go to the fertility clinic when Agness wants to have another baby but he seems unable to provide this. Here, both male characters suffer with the limitations of biological age and how it curbs their lifestyle and relationship choices; they are made to feel embarrassed by their shortcomings, suggesting that it is permissible to mock male bodies in a way it is not female bodies.
Alongside the male body's sexual utility, Peter Öberg asserts that masculinity may be judged largely in physical terms because there is no longer any masculine value assigned to wisdom. As he notes:
We who are approaching old age can hardly remember a time when older people were respected, looked up to, venerated for their wisdom. We can't see ourselves in biblical images of prophets with white beards or in the anthropological lore of times before literacy, before printing press, radio, television, computer, when the elders were the repositories of the accumulated knowledge, wisdom, history, and traditions of the tribe. (42)
Physical masculinity is interpreted through activity: physical, sexual, and sustained employment. Consequently, retirement can be a serious wrench for a man, in a way that is not necessarily reciprocated in women due to more frequent career breaks for pregnancy and child care, and so forth. While it may be easy to dismiss work pressures as trifling and outweighed by the dividends paid by patriarchy, Janet McCabe contends that it is necessary to “interrogate the ways men are restricted and frustrated by the culturally sanctioned models of masculinity without reducing them to victims” (164). In line with men studies theory more generally, she confirms that male characters in romcoms can be “constricted and let down by the dominant myths of what a man should be. [Post-classical heroes in romantic comedies are] professionally successful, economically secure, sexually and racially privileged but ultimately they remain unfulfilled” (164).
Two of the male leads in the selected romcoms are men who have reached the top of their careers: Harry owns a record label, and Jake is a partner in a law film. Harvey, however, still feels he has something to prove to his younger coworkers. Maybe this is because writing advertising jingles is not what he wanted to do so he has never felt fulfilled. He flounders in his creativity, finding that he has compromised his jazz talent to create background music for adverts. While the audience sees another older man in Kate's writing class, Harvey has no such outlet. He is knowledgeable about the arts, but not engaged; twice he identifies a book Kate is talking about but admits to not having read it. For Harvey, work has become his whole existence, as shown when his daughter asks her stepfather to give her away rather than him, and when he makes the decision to leave the wedding celebration early to get back to the office. On departure to London and his daughter's wedding on the Friday, he is told he must be back by Monday to land a key account or one of the younger execs will take it; this is more important to Harvey than staying for the whole of his wedding reception. It is only once he has met Kate, and that he feels he has the option of a life with her in it, that he is able to move forward to a new part of his life, and to, as Waxman describes it, ripen toward old age in a positive way. Thus, while women may feel threatened by younger women's bodies, Harvey experiences this challenge in his professional life; clearly, this reflects the traditional spheres of masculinity and femininity as existing within the public and private realms, respectively.
However, by far the most obvious way the male body is commented upon is in terms of its frailty. All three films include scenes in which the male lead suffers a heart-related incident. Both Harry and Jake have their scares as a result of sexual excitement and are then belittled by doctors' questions; Harry is forced to admit that he takes Viagra, and Jake that he takes, amongst other drugs, Flomax, otherwise he “pees 40 times a day.” Harvey stresses that his collapse on the stairs, which causes him to go to hospital and miss meeting Kate, is not age-related; he has arrhythmia, and, as he tells Kate, “young men get it too.” Nonetheless, these three episodes show that while the male body's problems may be biological rather than aesthetic, they are a source of consternation in the same way that female bodies negatively affect the self-confidence of Erica, Kate, and Jane. These male characters indicate that women are not necessarily doubly disadvantaged by age because men are, if not equally disadvantaged by age, then differently disadvantaged.
After the obstacles, romantic comedies traditionally end happily; as Celestino Deleyto concludes, “There can be little doubt that the happy ending is a recurrent convention of the genre” (24). McDonald contents that this outcome is problematic:
In giving the audience a high degree of closure with the happy ending in films of this genre, are romantic comedies benign, supplying an on-screen fantasy of perpetual bliss usually lacking in real life? Or do they negatively promote daydreams, making audiences long for a perfection which can, realistically, never be accomplished, leaving people dissatisfied with themselves and the relationships they do have? (14)
Romcoms with mature leads seem aware of this, injecting love with disillusionment from the outset. As McDonald asserts of romcoms more generally, these mature love stories show an awareness of “divorce, biological clocks, myths about the shortages of single men…” (14). Despite the time it takes one or both partners to reconcile themselves to a relationship in the films, eventually the relationship is a balm to both; the individuals are good for each other, and together find more rounded mature identities.
This is shown in physical terms in Something's Gotta Give with Erica and Harry admitting that they sleep much better when in bed together than alone. As Harry realizes at the end of the film: “Turns out, the heart attack was easy to get over. You were something else. I finally get what it's all about. I'm sixty-three years old and I'm in love for the first time in my life.” Indeed, he commits not only to Erica but her entire family, as the audience sees, showing that he has changed his behavior to fit into her life, while her lifestyle remains largely the same albeit fuller now with him in it. Furthermore, his transformation is represented by his clothing. Erica's clothes are muted and flattering throughout (her only concession to change is to give up wearing turtlenecks) but Harry wears brash brightly colored shirts in the first part of the film to denote his inappropriate behavior, then mirrors Erica's natural tones during his convalescence—perhaps underscoring feminizing tells like his crying—before wearing suits, as more adult, masculine attire, in the final scenes of the film, indicating that he is now age and gender appropriate. This gender dynamic holds true for Kate and Harvey too; Kate is accepted by Harvey's daughter at the wedding as a positive influence on him, and, with London so integral to the film, as well as Harvey's final statement that he is “in transition,” gives the audience the impression that he will move to fit into Kate's life. Kate's only adjustment is to remove her heels, which Harvey seems to appreciate.
While Jake and Jane do not end the film together, the film still ends happily, at least for Jane. The experience restores Jane's confidence, allowing her to accept that Adam could be interested in her, and her family welcome him over the confusion the affair with Jake brought. Furthermore, perhaps having designed her kitchen together, they will later share the house in cohabitation; this confirms that it is the man who should adjust to woman's lifestyle. Adam has been lost without a wife, clearly shown by his reliance of self-help CDs; yet he is certainly praised as a model of sensible, correct manhood against Jake's adulterous and immature masculinity; when Jane asks Adam whether she isn't too old for him, he censures the actions of men like Jake, replying, “How can you be too old for me, when I'm older than you?” How Jake's life will proceed is unclear. He is clearly unhappy in his situation with Agness and Pedro, which caused him to move backwards with Jane instead of forwards with his new family. Indeed, it is Jane who ends their affair and Jake who relentlessly pursues her; he misses the uncomplicated old times, whereas she is fine as she is: “I have it figured out. I no longer feel alone, or divorced. I just feel normal.” Having accepted this, though, the film brings her back to the traditional structure of adulthood: an age-appropriate heterosexual relationship with Adam.
It is the men who must change, as it is they who must persuade the female characters into a relationship. Harry follows Erica to Paris; Jake badgers Jane into continuing the affair past the point she knows is sensible; Harvey chases Kate around London to apologize for missing their rendezvous and urges her to take a chance on a relationship with him. In these power dynamics, it is the men who are more dependent than the women; the suggestion is that men do not do well without a suitable woman in their lives. Harry and Harvey come to realize this; Jake understands he has squandered the stability that Jane gave him and misses it; and Adam yearns for companionship. Jermyn argues that a feminist interpretation of this re-education of the men by the female characters is problematic because “it still places the woman protagonist in an essentially nurturing role, charged with making this damaged man into a better person” (31); yet, while this may be valid, the weighting of the plots in this way, allocating female characters the role of tutor, proves that it is the women that begin and end the films in positions of strength and the men who are in crisis.
In conclusion, while the female protagonists in these films have issues of self-confidence and are clearly aware of the social stigma against mature women, they subvert it through creativity and independence. They have adjusted to their age and, instead of mourning any lost physical aspect of their femininity, have begun new creative periods in their lives. Yet, perhaps these films also suggest that women seek creative solitude because they believe social conceptions of age offer no alternative, and thus it becomes a kind of replacement therapy for love. At their heart, then, these films offer examples of creative crones who must be romanced back to love by men who are incomplete without them.
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