It's no secret that Hollywood loves its pretty young thangs. Meaning that once a woman hits an age where starts looking like she's actually lived a life, she's tossed into the "mom roles" bucket and is legally required to soak for no less than four hours a day in a vat of paraffin wax and retinol.
The "mom roles" often see women playing mother to an actor who may only be ten to fifteen years younger than her and we as an audience are supposed to suspend our disbelief and turn our eyes away from the obvious ageism. Unfortunately, we see this played out yet again in the new Melissa McCarthy film, Tammy.
67 year-old Susan Sarandon plays 43 year-old McCarthy's grandmother. That's a 24 year age difference which, I suppose, is better than the 11 year age difference between McCarthy and Allison Janney who plays her mother.
Vulture's Kyle Buchanan uses this highly unbelievable casting decision as an opportunity to look at some of the more dubious instances when female actresses played parts far beyond their years. In a stroke of brilliance, he juxtaposes each example with a male equivalent, perfectly highlighting the absurdity of it all.
mother: Amy Poehler (b. September 16, 1971)
daughter: Rachel McAdams (b. November 17, 1978)
In Mean Girls, Amy Poehler's "cool mom" wants nothing more than to be regarded as a peer to her daughter, and rightly so: Only seven scant years separate Poehler and Rachel McAdams in age. Though Poehler was playing the mother to a teenage girl in the film, Mean Girls was made five years before Poehler would even give birth to her first child.
Male Equivalent: If the 1968-born Owen Wilson, who has played love interest to McAdams twice, had been cast as her dad instead.
mother: Winona Ryder (b. October 29, 1971)
son: Zachary Quinto (b. June 2, 1977)
Winona Ryder may appear ageless, but it still stretches credulity when she's onscreen next to Zachary Quinto as Spock and we're meant to regard them as mother and son despite the fact that she's just five years older than him. We could accept a lot of contrivances in J.J. Abrams's fun Star Trek reboot, but that one pushed us a little too far.
Male Equivalent: Jared Leto (also born in 1971, the same year as Ryder) could have been cast as Spock's dad, but would audiences ever buy someone like Leto as a paternal figure to Zach Quinto?
This is something you might not notice while you're watching a film, but seeing the (lack of) age differences laid out like that makes them seem particularly ridiculous.
I sort of understand the Mean Girls choice ONLY because of the Tine Fey/Amy Poehler blood sisterhood bond, but it's still disappointing to see these casting decisions made in projects where women are in charge. Tammy was produced and co-written by McCarthy along with her husband Ben Falcone who also directed the film.
While everyone loves to applaud women in Hollywood who choose to "age gracefully," it's hard to fault actresses who go the other route because, in many ways, their careers are on the line. If by age 40 you're already relegated to playing the mother of a 30 year old, those who adhere to strict anti-aging routines and are even willing to sue to preserve the air of youth are doing it less for the sake of vanity, and more to just stay afloat in this industry.
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