Category Archives: Midlife Crisis

If you’re having a full-on middle-age breakdown, complete with sports cars, face lifts, jewelry debt, or trophy concubines, no movie can help you. But if you’ve yet to succumb, the right film might serve as an effective replacement for such shenanigans. Movies, quite sensibly, tend to dissect the midlife crisis, and they often make nasty sport of it even when they’re sympathetic, so if immerse yourself, you can feel as if you passed through the gauntlet without any of the psychological damage that comes with it.

Calendar Girls (2003)

Calendar Girls
Calendar Girls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In youth-obsessed America, where it’s entirely possible to start feeling over the hill at age twenty-five, this film is a refreshing, good-natured slap in the face: a comedy, based on a true story, in which a group of Yorkshire women nervily bare all for a yearly fund-raising calendar, which becomes, as we see, a sensation. These women aren’t making fitness videos on the side, either—these are real bodies, belonging to undoctored women (including Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, and Linda Bassett) who are willing to be judged by a shortsighted world. The script of Calendar Girls isn’t overly sweet, although the saucily affirmative tone and the wheezy tai chi coda are trying.

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Wonder Boys (2000)

Middle-aged literature professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) is having a bad day: his wife has just left him, he’s having an affair with his boss’s wife (she also happens to be the chancellor of the university), and his editor is coming to town expecting a finished manuscript—of which he’s written very little, although he’s already used up a full ream of paper in the attempt. His own “wonder boy” years as star author far behind him, he embarks on a snowy Pittsburgh weekend odyssey that ends up involving a stoned literary prodigy (Tobey Maguire), a transvestite, a dead dog hidden in a trunk, a manuscript more promising than his own, and the stolen jacket of Marilyn Monroe. Michael Chabon’s novel of midlife crisis is wisely centered in the academic milieu: is there any more constant reminder that you’re past your prime than being surrounded by the flush of youth 24/7? We could feel our own age lines expand as we watched, but that doesn’t mean the movie isn’t smart, quick, witty, and lovable—it is. With Frances McDormand.

Shirley Valentine (1989)

At long last, a midlife crisis movie about a woman who’s actually in the middle of her life. Manchester working-class housewife Shirley Valentine (Pauline Collins) addresses the camera as if she’s revenging all the ridiculed English women in Alfie (that 1966 Michael Caine–as–womanizer affront), venting her frustration and disappointment at who she’s become and how she lost herself along the way. She hitches a free trip to Greece to discover, thankfully, that being over forty doesn’t have to mean an end to skinny-dipping in the Aegean Sea and drinking retsina by sunset. Unembarrassed by the film’s staginess, Collins looks like a real middle-aged woman whose hips have borne children and whose chin hasn’t been lifted above her eyebrows.

Shirley Valentine (film)
Shirley Valentine (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Network (1976)

Featuring quite possibly the most thoughtfully written script in Hollywood history, Paddy Chayefsky’s torrential satire on the television industry wasn’t so far-fetched at the time, and it’s turned out to be so prophetic that today’s jaded high schooler might think it tame. Network is to be savored for many reasons, among them the autumnal crisis endured by aging network exec Max Schumacher (William Holden), who faces the business end of his career just as Faye Dunaway’s irresistibly amoral company hotshot lures him into an affair. He knows it’s all a soap opera cliche, and she hardly knows soap from real life, but in the meantime there’s real heartache here, with Holden and his wife (Oscar winner Beatrice Straight) bravely facing—in painful, human terms— the desperate confusions of fading love and angry devotion. It’s a notably sympathetic portrait because it’s so viciously honest, and 203 | dl fe Cr s s IV anyone in his or her fifties can find understanding company in Holden’s melancholy, hound-dog visage.