Wednesday, 17 February 2010

2009 in Review: Growing Older…

It’s not regarded as a specific genre in and of itself, but it’s always interesting to note how many films tackle that “taboo” subject of growing old. Not coming age as from childhood to maturity, but the (sometimes sudden) realisation that death is imminent, dreams will not be attained and life is not what you wished it would be. It often becomes a question of our mortality. Stephen Frears Chéri is the ultimate example of being disillusioned about growing older, since the subject is that of the aging courtesan Lea de Lonval (played by a magnificent Michelle Pfeiffer). It’s a film that deserved more than it got, I for one was a fan – my review. Lea is growing older and realises that her treasures may not be as…valuable as they once were. The romance she thrusts herself into with the eponymous Chéri is pathetic, funny and poignant all at once and of course that (now notorious) final look in the camera tells more about the old enemy time than quite a few have tried in their entire duration.
The concept of age was a major theme in 17 Again, a surprisingly enjoyable comedy starring (who’d have imagined) Zac Efron. Matthew Perry’s Mike after realising the lack of mobility in his job that his golden years are long gone, and as we all do when the time comes, he yearns for the (assumed) simplicity of his youth. Of course the wrap-up is just a bit too tidy, but he learns in the process that we can never really outrun our problems, no matter how we try. It’s something I wonder if Clooney’s Ryan Bingham was considering. I really couldn’t buy into Up in the Air, the all too pithy scenarios felt much too clinical for me to believe. It’s not to say that Ryan’s epiphany is impossible, so many have probably gone through such a midlife crises but despite it’s numerous faults 17 Again spends its entirety trying to make us buy a change in Mike's temperament, so that when it comes – as tidy as it is – we are inclined to believe. On the other hand with Up in the Air, though I believe it could have happened I was not given any incentive  to believe it did. A wedding does not a marriage make and as epiphanies come they are sudden but there’s always an underlying rationale or raison d’être which continues to elude me when it comes to Clonney's Ryan.
I wonder where Larry David’s Boris from Whatever Works would fit into this equation. I suppose Whatever Works is Woody slumming it, but Woody slumming is better than many “excelling”. Still, Whatever Worksas I’ve noted – is not perfect. For the most part, the troubles begin (and end) with David. He’s not the lovable old geezer that we’ve come to expect and require in Woodyland. He’s all too abrasive. But Whatever Works manages to work where Up in the Air doesn’t because Whatever Works has the sense to realise that Boris is not the beginning and end of the narrative. The supporting characters essentially hijack the third act (for the better).
The only thing our other two women Robin Wright Penn’s Pippa Lee and Meryl Streep’s Jane have in common is a daughter played to perfect irritation by the exasperating Zoe Kazan. But then, I’m being too stingy. They both are juggling two men, even if they don’t realise. I wonder what Pippa would say to Jane. Pippa’s husband like Meryl’s ex has an indiscretion with a younger woman. But Winona Ryder is nowhere as savvy (or cutthroat) like Meryl’s foil the lovely Agnes. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee did impress me more, even if it is more of a guilty pleasure type. However despite the review, the first two thirds are quite good. I realise too, that both films depend completely on their leading ladies. Both come to grips with their age, although it is harsher for Pippa considering that she’s no where as exciting as she was in her youths. They both may be juggling two men, but she’s not a bit of slut, but then neither is Jane for that matter. The real slut would have to be Lea, and that’s purely for professional reasons.
The two films which were so easily confused last year A Serious Man and A Single Man. The latter obviously trumps the former for me. Although I’m not acutely certain that either man is really dealing with midlife crises. Both men are teachers; that’s about as far as their similarities go. Larry is the epitomical good guy who bad things happen to, but so is George. Larry looks to religion and George looks to death. I’m not sure either of them finds complete fulfilment. But then again, who does?
At the end of the day Lea’s mirror gaze haunts me the most; but which battle with age leaves you must satisfied…cinematically speaking? 
PS. This is the last of the 2009 in Reviews...unless there's a category I've forgotten...


Nigel said...

Congratulations Andrew. You've successfully swayed me into watching Cheri. I'm bought, and I'm going to see it.

I was going to anyway; I just needed a little incentive.

Alex in Movieland said...

ih, I still haven't seen Whatever Works! I just don't like Larry David's face...

Mike Lippert said...

Another fine recap. Of course, no one beats Ignmar Bergman at films about growing old but hey, that's a different post.

I love that you included 17 Again. I also sang it some praises when I wrote a post about Zac Efron last month. I had no expectations for it and was suprised by just how many times it made me laugh, especially that guy from Reno 911.

I just watched Whatever Works on the weekend and initially I thought of what the film would have been like if Allen had starred in it himself. But then I got to thinking how Woddy is too likable to play the Boris role and Larry David gave it that sort of cynical, biting edge that the character needed although he was essentially playing himself. In the end though I really liked it.

Have yet to see Cheri yet but it is coming to TMN soon here so I'll have to check that one out.