Why Aren’t Women Allowed to Age On-Screen?

Source: IMDb

When Nicole Kidman accepted the SAG Award for her critically acclaimed turn in HBO’s “Big Little Lies” last January, the Oscar-winner and industry veteran praised her colleagues for instigating change, while also imploring those who run the studios to continue investing time and money in the stories of women who’ve reached middle age.

“[H]ow wonderful it is that our careers today can go beyond 40 years old because 20 years ago, we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives. That’s not the case now,” she said. “We’ve proven — and these actresses and so many more are proving — that we are potent and powerful and viable. I just beg that the industry stays behind us because our stories are finally being told.”

“It’s only the beginning and I’m so proud to be part of a community that is instigating this change, but I implore the writers, directors, studios, and financiers to put passion and money behind our stories,” Kidman added. “We have proven we can do this. We can continue to do this, but only with the support of this industry and that money and passion.”

Yet, while prospects for women over age 40 have begun to expand, many face the same level of typecasting that’s come to define the maturing female’s career. While many are relegated to nothing more than supporting roles, others find themselves playing one-dimensional wives or mothers that contribute very little to the given film’s basic plot. Despite the fact that women — especially those with decades of life experience — are complicated, emotional, and endearing, these dynamic humans rarely star in stories of their own.

While marriage and motherhood might be part of the mature woman’s narrative, such factors often become the defining elements of the given character’s story. Judging by Hollywood’s vision, women lose their identities once they become wives and mothers. They’re devoid of any individuality and exist only to support the ambitions of their partner or child. If said woman hasn’t tied the knot or given birth, she’s portrayed as an outlier — a so-called “spinster” that’s fixated on snagging herself a husband and having a baby before her biological clock becomes a ticking time bomb that renders her undesirable by society’s standards.

Source: IMDb

Even though it’s 2018, for some reason we still assess a woman’s worth by whether or not she’s fulfilled her duty as the vessel for another life. And, if a woman has aged beyond her childbearing potential, she’s cast aside, essentially proving that society believes mature women aren’t “sexy” because the act of intercourse could never lead to new life. Thus, those women over 40 must maintain a certain aesthetic in an effort to retain this youthful appeal.

Men, of course, are allowed to age on-screen because, while actors are revered for the name they bring to the project in question, women are valued for their face, first and foremost. Only the beloved few — Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, and Judi Dench, for instance — have managed to overcome the age hurdle and find success on the other side. Even when men have lost that handsome, boyish appeal, they find new life, as male maturity often leads to more serious roles (although their love interests rarely age in unison). For men, their résumé sustains their reputation, while actresses are assessed by nothing more than their headshot.

Hollywood needs to stop fixating on sex appeal and start focusing on substance. Few films offer an intricate, complex look into the lives of mature women. For years, we’ve been forced to accept Hollywood’s caricature of the average woman, yet this trend has only hindered the way we perceive women in real life. We’ve been conditioned to expect wives and mothers to maintain a pristine exterior regardless of their actual age, which only contributes to the unrealistic beauty standards we must battle every day. Perhaps, if women on screen looked and behaved like the women we meet every day, we’d be more accepting and intrigued by those whose stories have yet to find an outlet. There’s so much untapped potential, after all, so let’s heed Kidman’s plea and put the passion where the people are.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

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Why Star Wars Fans Need to Give Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo a Fighting Chance

Source: IMDb

Now that Disney owns the Star Wars franchise, it’s safe to assume that the saga will continue for years (and years and years) to come. Thus, as the brand works to expand the existing universe, fans are nervous that those who take on their favorite characters will butcher the memory of what once was. And now, with the standalone Young Han Solo film on the horizon, film buffs are becoming more anxious than ever.

During the Super Bowl, Disney debuted the first teaser for “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” By the next day, the full trailer was online, available for all to criticize and complain. Because the film explores Han Solo’s adventures prior to the original Star Wars trilogy, the casting directors had to reach beyond Harrison Ford’s iconic performance to find someone who could bring Solo to life for the next generation. While the process drew much doubt and speculation from hardcore fans, the filmmakers chose Alden Ehrenreich, a relative newcomer to the entertainment industry.

Of course, while the up-and-coming actor was likely excited to earn a role that could launch his career to A-list status, he also has the thankless job of following in Ford’s footsteps. From the moment he was revealed to the world, Ehrenreich has been exposed to the harsh condemnation of the internet. Fans of Ford can be rather rude, especially considering the cowardly anonymity that comes along with social media. Now that these diehards have finally seen Ehrenreich in action, their hate hasn’t subsided. Yet, while some fans were hoping for an exact replica of the character’s original vessel, Ehrenreich opted to embrace Solo on his own terms—and rightfully so.

“I think the main thing that’s different is that the Han we meet in this film is more of an idealist, he has certain dreams that he follows, and we watch how it affects him as those dreams meet new realities, realities that are harder and more challenging than he’d expected,” Ehrenreich told Entertainment Weekly.

Ehrenreich also did his homework in order to ensure that his portrayal does both Ford and Solo proud. Lucasfilm president and “Solo” producer Kathleen Kennedy told EW that, while Ford kept a respectful distance from the project, he did have lunch with Ehrenreich to offer insight into the rebellious hero he originated in 1977.

“What [Ford] did so beautifully for Alden was he talked a lot about what he remembered when he first read ‘Star Wars,’ and what George had done with Han. Who the character was and the conversations he had for so many years with George about how that character developed,” Kennedy said. “He gave Alden that kind of insight which was invaluable. There were several times in the course of making the movie where Alden would actually recount some of the things that Harrison had pointed out. I think that was really, really helpful to him.”

When assuming an established character, it’s often hard for the new actor to find his footing. While some believe they should emulate their predecessor’s every move, others are motivated to disregard history entirely and find their own approach. Although no one can accurately judge Ehrenreich’s performance as of yet, it’s safe to say that the actor has done all he can to honor both sides of the debate.

Han Solo will always be one of those legendary characters that transcends time and, in this case, space, but there isn’t anything fans can do to stop those who’re in control from reinventing the story in the future. To compare Ehrenreich with Ford would be like comparing every incarnation of Superman with Christopher Reeve, who’s arguably the greatest actor to ever don those tights — it’s futile, and doing so robs Ehrenreich of the opportunity to make his mark on the franchise. He’s got big shoes to fill. Even if he trips up now and then along the way, he still deserves the chance to learn how to stand on his own two feet. Ford will always be the first (and probably the best) Han Solo no matter how much time passes, but Ehrenreich certainly deserves a fighting chance.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

With ‘Home Again,’ Hallie Meyers-Shyer Holds the Future of Rom-Coms In Her Hands

Source: Rob Latour/Variety/REX/Shutterstock (9029834d)

When critics refer to films as “chick flicks” — the blatantly derogatory term used to describe romantic comedies — they do so as their way of diminishing these stories. For some reason, this typically female-driven genre warrants little respect from Hollywood, despite the fact that so many rom-com films go on to become classics.

Simply observe the average box office selection to recognize major studios prefer films that will generate big bucks during their opening weekend. Said films are often forgettable, and rarely withstand the test of time, but longevity isn’t necessary as long as the theaters are packed. Thankfully, however, every now and then, one of these supposedly sappy “flicks” slips through the cracks, providing audiences with an opportunity to escape the deluge of superhero sequels and lose themselves in the intoxicating drama of someone else’s love life.

“Home Again” jumps right into the middle of the story by introducing us to Alice (played by Reese Witherspoon), the newly separated mother-of-two on her 40th birthday. While questioning her move back to L.A. and what the future holds in store during this milestone year, Alice soon finds herself living with three young men who are determined to break into the film industry. Alice, her daughters, and the men—Harry, Teddy, and George—soon form an unexpected bond, creating an extended family filled with more love and support than those formed by blood.

Source: Entertainment Weekly

With the film’s unconventional premise in place, writer and director Hallie Meyers-Shyer was free to build characters that are both endearing and multi-dimensional. Meyers-Shyer also disregards the usual tropes and trappings of basic rom-coms, incorporating elements rarely found throughout the genre.

Alice’s relationship with Harry, for instance—a man more than 10 years her junior—turns the tables by acknowledging the age dynamic and flipping it on its head. Like men who date women outside their basic demographic, Alice was unapologetic and alive. Contrary to the stereotype, Alice wasn’t some sort of cougar out for young blood. She was genuinely attracted to Harry and she acted upon her impulses, as people often do. Meyers-Shyer paid special attention to the human element that drives all sorts of relationships, and seamlessly threaded the emotions and behaviors into every nook and cranny.

Beyond the sexual tension and romantic relationship between Alice and Harry (played by Pico Alexander), George’s bond with Isabel (played by Lola Flanery), Alice’s eldest daughter, exceeds expectations, as its innocence and simplicity truly captures the family element at the heart of this film. George (played by Jon Rudnitsky) isn’t the type of man we often see in such movies, but he offers a refreshing glimpse into the very sort of man every woman would love to know.

Source: The Times

Best of all, Meyers-Shyer doesn’t play down to her audience by manufacturing some forced happy ending. Alice and Harry do not magically reunite, and she ultimately asks her husband for a divorce—two factors that, in any other scenario, might lead to disappointment. But, when everyone gathers for dinner at the end, one can’t help but be slightly jealous.

Meyers-Shyer has set the precedent for a new kind of family and a new kind of rom-com. And, while she’s the offspring of the genre’s two most notable veterans, Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, it’s her own creative instinct that produced one of the best films of 2017 overall. What once seemed like a dying genre, rom-coms now have someone to birth the next generation of classic films.

Hollywood needs to invest more money in storytelling. Spectacle can only sustain the industry for so long, but stories, especially those written by women about women, never lose their appeal. Stories that honestly tap into the human experience reach beyond the generational divide, which begets the longevity that defines classic cinema. With Meyer-Shyer’s innate ability to create nuanced characters that speak to people at all stages of life, “Home Again” will surely be just the first film in an ever-growing catalog for the new director.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

‘Baby Boom’ at 30: Why the J.C. Wiatts of the World Still Can’t “Have It All”

Source: IMDb

When Baby Boom was released in 1987, public perceptions of the working woman were steadily improving. According to Pew Research Center, only 30 percent of Americans polled at the time believed women should return to their traditional roles in society — wife, mother, and homemaker — while 66 percent disagreed. Yet, while Americans were more accepting of ambitious women in theory, in practice, many continued to adhere to the antiquated gender roles that plague society to this day.

For J.C. Wiatt, played by Diane Keaton, life was all about work and climbing the corporate ladder. As the only woman in the boardroom, J.C. had essentially disguised herself as “one of the boys” until an unexpected inheritance landed in her lap — her distant relative’s orphaned daughter, Elizabeth. While J.C. attempts to juggle her newfound motherhood and manic management career simultaneously, the strain ultimately drives her to abandon city life for an old fixer-upper in Vermont’s countryside.

Once J.C. gains her footing, however, she creates an immensely successful baby food brand that causes the very colleagues who essentially chased her from her office to come crawling back on hands and knees for a piece of the proverbial pie. Yet, while J.C. holds all the cards, including the opportunity to return to an increasingly lucrative corporate job, she declines the offer, as she recognizes that her professional pursuits would rob her of precious moments shared with the daughter she’d come to love as her own.

Despite J.C.’s smart decision, her situation highlights the sort of sacrifices women must make daily regarding work-life balance. Although her story took place 30 years ago, modern society has done little to ease the burden thrust upon mothers. Women are expected to fulfill all child-rearing and familial obligations, regardless of their professional status, while men pawn off parenting duties so they can focus on “providing” for the family they rarely see. Gender stereotypes continue to impede female ambition, as women must often choose between having a family and advancing their career, unlike their male counterparts.

Source: IMDb

In 2008, Pew Research Center conducted a study to explore why so few women have risen to the top ranks of American politics and business. While both men and women (32 percent vs. 37 percent respectively) agree that women’s family responsibilities don’t afford them the time necessary to run major corporations, those seeking political careers face even greater hurdles. Twenty-seven percent of those polled said women’s family responsibilities don’t leave time for politics, while others agree that women who are active in party politics are held back by men (43 percent) and that women are discriminated against in all areas of life including politics (38 percent).

J.C.’s story has a happy ending, of course, as such movies usually do. She established an alternative way to support her family, she gained new perspective and purpose, and she found love in the arms of the local veterinarian. But even J.C.’s triumphs are merely relative compared to what so many women must forfeit in return. Society expects women to raise the next generation, but then shuns those who opt out of the workforce to care for their children. No matter how hard women try to satisfy everyone’s standards, they’re trapped in a perpetual lose-lose situation that will never improve unless we alter how we view mothers overall.

After her initial reluctance, J.C. soon discovers how rewarding motherhood can be. She comes to recognize that success isn’t always measured by paychecks and fancy titles. However, American society has yet to adopt these same realizations.

Critics are correct when they say women can’t have it all, but it’s not because they are incapable of juggling responsibilities. (Any mother would agree that juggling is just one of their many talents.)

In this case, society deserves the blame.

We can claim to value family above all else, but until we begin actively putting personal priorities ahead of professional obligations — until we start gauging success by how much love we have, not how much money we’ve earned — society will never be able to reassess how it views motherhood deep down.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

The Bill Paxton Effect

Despite our presumed differences, it’s safe to say that we’re all looking for that elusive “something” that makes us feel complete. Our specific pursuits are irrelevant when we stop to consider that, deep down, we’re all desperate to find meaning in a world that seems devoid of logic, especially now.

Film and television are notorious for bringing such feelings to light, for it’s in the eyes of the actors that we can see ourselves. Bill Paxton’s body of work—his characters, in particular—personifies our innate desire to seek what’s just out of reach. But if there’s one thing we can learn from what the beloved actor and director left behind, it’s that what we want and what we need don’t always align.

Source: CraveOnline

Source: CraveOnline

Paxton’s roles often looked to the outside world for direction. His unhinged persona in Frailty believed he was destined to rid the world of demons, for instance, while his adventurous alter ego in Twister unearthed renewed purpose when chasing tornadoes. But it was his turn as Brock Lovett in 1997’s Titanic that demonstrated how tunnel vision might distract us from the critical lessons of life.

“Three years, I’ve thought of nothing except Titanic, but I never got it. I never let it in.”

Spoken by Paxton’s Lovett at the end of the film, these words emphasize the character’s epiphany. While he’d spent years searching for the Heart of the Ocean, a rare diamond once worn by the now aging Rose Calvert, he neglected to explore the rich history buried deep within the ship’s wreckage. Lovett longed to find artifacts, forgetting that each item pulled from the ocean floor carried the stories of those lost and found. As he said, he never let the immensity of the disaster sink in, so to speak.

Source: CinemaBlend

Source: CinemaBlend

But isn’t that how most of us go about our daily lives? We are selfish. We rarely stop to observe what’s all around. We are oblivious to both the beauty and the injustice right before our eyes.

Though we live in an increasingly enlightened time—an era filled with activists who wish to fix the faults of our ailing society—many people opt to look the other way. Face forward and eyes down, they trudge through life with little regard for those who are suffering. If they stop to acknowledge these issues, they run the risk of derailing their own efforts. One step off the beaten path could mark the beginning of the end for their personal success.

Nowadays, we call that privilege. Historically, we call that ignorance.

But now, more than ever, we need to open our eyes and our ears. We must extend our hand and heart to our neighbor, both near and far. Local communities may be close-knit, but we’re all global citizens now. We owe to our people and our planet to seek solutions to the problems that affect everyone worldwide. We must spread the stories and amplify the voices of those in need to educate the selfish and encourage the selfless.

Source: YouTube

Source: YouTube

During an interview with “Film School Rejects” in 2014, Paxton expressed his boundless fascination with human-interest stories. “My father always read obituaries to me out loud, not because he was maudlin or morbid, but because they were mini biographies. ‘Listen to what this guy did! Look what he said. Look how he started out.’”

Human-interest stories, those that truly touch our hearts and inspire change, are born from an interest in humans from all walks of life. But to learn the lessons our friends and strangers have to teach, we must commit to walking with them, hand-in-hand, even if only for a short while.

Fans will surely quote Paxton for generations: “Game over, man!” For those blessed with life, however, the game has only just begun.

But we’ve got to be in it to win it.

Let’s allow Paxton, the director, to call the next shot. Let’s show more interest in our fellow humans, for it’s in every human’s best interest to cultivate an overarching culture of curiosity and compassion. From this core value, we can achieve anything as long as we do so together.

Source: SunStar

Source: SunStar

Knock It Off, Nostalgia!

iStock_000002879254_SmallIf George Santayana was correct, and those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, then those who become consumed by nostalgia are doomed to dwell in another era. Pop culture buffs, in particular, have created this trap from which the entertainment industry cannot escape.

Nostalgia has become the primary impetus behind creativity throughout Hollywood, according to recent memory, driving numerous endeavors to “reboot” or “remake” the movies and TV shows of yesteryear. Yet, while this wave of inspiration—or lack thereof—appears to be motivated by an unyielding yearning for days gone by, one may also perceive this trend as an attempt to capitalize on prior successes. (Who am I kidding? That’s exactly what they’re doing…)

Most studios and investors prefer to sink money into ideas that are essentially past their expiration date simply because these once profitable entities still remain vivid within our collective consciousness. But these lackluster attempts to restore characters and concepts to their former glory could very well be the key to their imminent demise. You see, it’s their memory that holds the appeal. TV shows, such as Full House, and films, such as Poltergeist, remain popular in their original form because they carry an innate timelessness that cannot be replicated. Despite the1980s vibe, each exists outside the confines of the given decade, allowing generation after generation to enjoy what attracted audiences in the first place.

Of course, remakes and reboots are by no means new to the industry. Hollywood’s history is chock full of unnecessary spinoffs and sequels. (Please see Three’s A Crowd, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), and every installment of the Leprechaun series for reference.) But today, it’s as if nearly all major films and franchises are born from what already exists. It’s as if there’s simply no room for unique thought and creativity in today’s entertainment space. Just check out this list of upcoming movies as assembled by Grantland:harris-sequels-2

Also, if you can’t get the original cast to sign on, that clearly means you shouldn’t pursue the idea any further. The Prince and Me and its subsequent straight-to-DVD iterations, for instance, defy industry expectations, ultimately representing all that’s wrong with the entertainment world today. Not only was the initial film rather lackluster and poorly received, overall, but also its three follow-ups—which I can happily say I’ve never seen—steadily deteriorated, as the creators grasped onto farfetched concepts despite the exit of their primary star, Julia Stiles. (I wish I could tell you that 2010’s The Prince and Me 4: The Elephant Adventure was something I just made up myself, but alas, even I was unaware that this atrocity existed.) Who decided to spend money on these $5 bargain bin liners instead of investing in something worthwhile? Even something risky would’ve been more profitable, I’m sure.

Our society desperately needs to open the pathways for innovation and invention. Yet, instead of rewarding unique concepts, we get too-soon remakes, like She’s All That (which came out in 1999, mind you) and Girl Meets World, the more modern, slightly urbanized version of its original incarnation, Boy Meets World. If Hollywood continues down this road, we will be forced to indulge the same ideas over and over, leaving no room for new forms of nostalgia to blossom. Our children will only have our stale, used memories to revel in themselves. Let’s nurture future creatives by allowing the new to become old again.

Take 5: 2010’s Most Overrated Films

Last year, Paranormal Activity had audiences all across the nation screaming in terror.  Having always been a sucker for the horror genre, I believed the hype and committed to an hour and a half of laughable scenes that made me roll my eyes at the current state of our society.  (They obviously have a very thin skin, those poor saps.)  Ever since, my trust in public opinion and the five-star rating system has wavered tremendously.

Now, as my filmmaker boyfriend builds me into a burgeoning movie buff, I have come to see the things that constitute true cinema, as opposed to those that only qualify as spectacle.  And as 2010 comes to an end, my opinions decided to hop on the countdown list bandwagon.  The films listed below, though all enjoyable in their own right, garnered an abundant amount of praise.  Such intense over adulation can only lead to inevitable disappointment, hence why I’ve come to consider these blockbusters to be a tad overrated, for everything that’s overhyped creates the potential for letdown.

**Spoiler Alert: The following blurbs may contain information regarding key plot points. If you haven’t seen a given film, skip that one and go on to the next!**

5. Inception – With amazing effects and shifting architecture, Inception’s greatest optical illusion may still be Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s striking resemblance to the late Heath Ledger.  Upon second viewing (or mere contemplation), viewers will begin to notice numerous plot holes that cannot be filled. However, the fast-paced progression and confusing nature forces the audience to ignore the things they cannot readily answer, pushing forward so they do not lose their place.  And though the film proves to be entertaining and thought provoking, I simply hope this speedy style of storytelling doesn’t become Hollywood’s new way of glossing over less than perfect writing.  However, leaving the ending entirely ambiguous was the only way to proceed, for a concrete finale could have very well killed the magic of the film overall.

4. Black Swan – Once again, we find ourselves faced with incomprehensible confusion, culminating in what must be Natalie Portman’s most demanding, provocative role of her career thus far.  However, her Oscar-worthy performance still cannot overshadow the overly sexual, “in your face” atmosphere that pervaded the entire film.

Black Swan depends on the visceral imagery and perplexing plot line to distract audience members from the fact that one cannot and will not ever figure out which moments were real and which took place solely in Nina’s (Portman) mind.  The only scary thing about this film (other than Portman’s toes) is how moviegoers everywhere are afraid to speak their mind.  I have yet to find one person who adamantly hates this film, finding only those who claim this movie has “blown their mind” and that “you must see it for yourself.”  Unfortunately, Black Swan has blown most minds to bits, casting dissenting opinion to the shadows for fear of looking dumb due to confusion.

3. Despicable Me – Everyone keeps boasting about the endearing super villains, adorable children and silly aliens, claiming this to be one of the greatest children’s movies of all time.  Not just the year – all time.  Unfortunately, Steve Carell’s voice infuses his stale comedic style into an already bland atmosphere that makes this computer-animated film less appealing than most.  Why the exhausted concept of a reformed bad guy has won the hearts of so many still baffles me, especially when there was no shortage of animated pictures this year.  (Insert unyielding praise for How to Train Your Dragon here.)

2. Toy Story 3 – While families flocked to theaters across the country (with children who weren’t even alive for the first two installments), we 20-somethings headed to the movies floating on a cloud of nostalgia.  However, I grew wary of this film’s actual intent when Andy’s mom insisted on wiping his room clean and erasing him from the house when he was only going away to college.  (He’s got to come home for break eventually, and if he’s like those of us who grew up along with him, he may just be moving back in after graduation, too.)  Yet people have spent the last six months praising a film that rubs our faces in how much it stinks to be an adult.  What’s next, Pixar – Up 2: Carl Kicks the Bucket?

1. Shutter Island – Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a man haunted by the memory of his dead wife in this stunning, visual thriller.  Wait, that sounds familiar… Thankfully, DiCaprio makes a delightful deranged widower.   Unfortunately, the wonderful imagery cannot quite cover up the ridiculously predictable plot.  Having heard the end brought about a “shocking twist,” my mom, sister and I made the trek to the theater in search of a good ol’ surprise (and Mark Ruffalo).  Unfortunately, it seems that the majority of moviegoers have never seen a movie, nor had a thought of their own, in their entire lives, for anyone could have seen that DiCaprio was the very psychiatric patient they were searching for within the first 20 minutes.