Dog Years: Why Movie Moms Are The Same Age As Their Sons

Illustration for article titled Dog Years: Why Movie Moms Are The Same Age As Their Sons

Yesterday The Carpetbagger pointed out a disturbing fact of Hollywood biology: actresses playing mom to actors no younger than they are.

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The Carpetbagger references a Guardian article by Hadley Freeman, in which actress Hope Davis said she was "peeved" to be offered the role of Johnny Depp's mom — she is actually a year younger than he is. Freeman comes up with the following upsetting comparison: in Hollywood, actress years are like dog years — one year for a woman equals seven years for her male co-star.

Even that math wouldn't make some Hollywood mother-son pairings possible. Angelina Jolie would've had to birth onscreen son Colin Farrell (Alexander) while still in diapers, since she's only a year older than he is. And Back to the Future's Lea Thompson must have been the world's first combination mom-and-twin, since she and her "son" Michael J. Fox were the same age.

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By way of explanation, Freeman offers the following analysis:

Quite why film directors are so averse to having middle-aged roles played by middle-aged women comes down to male insecurity and misogyny. In regards to the former, if the mother is played by, say, a thirtysomething, that would suggest that the male lead must be still a teenager. [...] As for the more obvious issue of misogyny, the sense of disgust of older women is so deeply entrenched in Hollywood that even when the role is specifically for an older woman, no one wants to see an actual older woman on screen.

Freeman points out that such age politics play out offscreen as well. If being a year older makes a woman mom material, it follows that girlfriends and wives must be much, much younger — like Jack Nicholson's onetime girlfriend Lara Flynn Boyle, 33 years his junior. "The question of whether the onscreen age gaps prompt and encourage the offscreen ones, or vice-versa," she writes, "is a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue."

We agree. But we'd also like to point out that we get used to things we see on the big screen. Much as magazine covers can creep into our heads and convince us that a woman should be as smooth as a bar of soap, movies can make us believe that a woman is over the hill at thirty-five. Maybe fewer people would talk about women aging faster than men, and about the supposed biological drive for men to date younger, if movies paired actors and actresses age-appropriately, rather than portraying a world where Johnny Depp's prime is Hope Davis's dotage.

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In Hollywood, Men and Women Age at Different Speeds and Women Don't Like It [Carpetbagger]
Oh, mother! [Guardian]

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DISCUSSION

tiredfairy
tiredfairy

Alexander was awful on so many levels, this is just one of them. And it sort of loses the point of the actual article, which is that this sort of thing is really more of a problem when we try to portray people who are the same age as older and younger without any attempt to actually make them look older. If you hire an actor to play one character at different ages, that makes more sense, but they should actually look that age. Farrell didn't look 20 anymore than Jolie looked 40.

I have less of an issue when characters are close in age when it makes sense for the time period, or someone was a young mother, etc.

Now, in the Hope David thing, if she's supposed to be his mother -now- and there're not aging her for the movie, that's ridiculous. She does not look older than Depp and though I love him, I think his days of playing 20 year olds are over. If its like Benjamin Button, where one actor plays a part over multiple ages, that's less of an issue. But if they're just supposed to be older, why wouldn't you just hire an older actress? They do exist.

Honestly, I think the article here sort of misses what the point of the original is. Which is the disgust of older women thing. And I mean actually older, like 60-70, not 35. Women of those ages are either invisible, or portrayed as creepy, especially if there's anything sexual involved. But we think Sean Connery with Zeta Jones is okay? And beyond that, though there's a general fear of age, old or older men are either sexy or funny. Not generally reviled or unsympathetic.

To me, that's a perfect example of our obsessive patriarchy in motion. Men continue to have value as they age, women do not. And I think there's a subconscious, cultural push that older men are okay because they're experienced, and wiser, and "protective". As opposed to creepy. That's not all the time, and it tends to vary depending on the story...but I can't help but think that women get the short end here. We're either tempting nymphets, or gross hags.