In the forthcoming Apple TV+ series The Crowded Room, a 35-year-old woman—Emmy Rossum—will portray the mother of a 25-year-old man—Tom Holland—and, uh, we have questions.
In the new anthology series about people who have struggled to live with mental illness, Holland will portray a man named Danny Sullivan, who has dissociative identity disorder and is presumably based on the real-life, alleged serial rapist Billy Milligan. Rossum will play Danny’s mother, and while some rumors have suggested she’ll be his mother in flashbacks to his youth, reporting from The Hollywood Reporter sure makes it sound like Rossum will be acting alongside Holland as his adult character’s mother in the present-day. Ha ha!
On the surface, it’s funny: A 35-year-old woman is a 25-year-old man’s mother, while 35-year-old women are still ostensibly matching with 25-year-old men on Tinder! Then, at some point, it becomes just another bleak reminder of the gendered ageism that pervades Hollywood and relegates all actresses above the age of 29 to supporting roles that often cater to discriminatory, one-dimensional archetypes about women “of a certain age.” We rarely see storytelling about women above 40, let alone women above 40 who are sexually active, living full lives, or otherwise defying stereotypes about the supposed sexless misery of aging as a woman. Hollywood ageism is a testament to societal ageism—as women get older, both the entertainment industry and society at large want them to either disappear or become invisible matrons.
In contrast, male actors who hit 30, 40, 50, and beyond will hardly see changes in the roles they get and are often paired with substantially younger actresses as their love interests. At 35, they certainly aren’t shoehorned into playing fathers of adult children—they’ll probably be portraying the adult son of some ancient, shriveled up 42-year-old woman.
The bizarre casting of The Crowded Room reminds us that in the Year of Our Lord 2022, very little has changed about the way society casts aside women past their “prime.” Through Hollywood’s lens, I look like I should be a mother to a literal Large Adult Son, when, honestly, I still struggle to keep my plants alive.
Sure, Holland may be a spry, baby-faced short king, but you’re still not convincing anyone that the extremely hot and vibrant Emmy Rossum is his mother.