Hollywood has a nasty habit of painting aging women in a way where it seems like turning 50 is the end. While men in their 30s often play teenage roles, many women are foisted out of the industry after the big five-oh — especially when it comes to playing characters that actually have an arc. Plenty of times, women in their 30s or 40s appear in 50-plus roles. Not only does this create a hypocritical landscape in Hollywood for women, but it elevates the narrative that women’s lives are over as they age.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Plenty of women reinvent themselves as they age and reclaim the joy that they may have lost once upon a time. While there aren’t nearly enough projects featuring this age group of women, movies that depict aging women as strong, independent characters are a breath of fresh air. Whether these stories star career women or family-oriented women who go on a joyful journey, it’s a nice change of pace for middle-aged women to those in their twilight years to see themselves in a positive light. We don’t need more films drowning these characters in a reductive and dismissive capacity. So, here are some of the best movies that combat the tired cliches of aging women on-screen.
A book club of long-time besties may not seem like the most exhilarating concept for a film, but at its core, Book Club is a story about successful women in their ‘70s reclaiming their sexuality and zest for life. The leading career women include a hotel owner, a judge, a restaurant owner, and a family woman. The concept of a book club between lifelong friends isn’t a new one, but their latest book gives the dynamic leading ladies a sexual reawakening.
Though 50 Shades of Gray has met plenty of mixed reactions, the book sparks something in the film’s leads. Society has come a long way since Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen), and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) reached adulthood. They defied the sexist stereotypes thrown at women and the expectation that they have to give up their lives to fulfill societal expectations.
Whether women choose to focus on their career, a caregiving role, or a combination of both, all life choices are valid — but only when women choose for themselves. And as these women move further into their twilight years, they continue to lead fulfilled lives. Luckily for fans of the first film, the core four are back at it again with a sequel. Book Club: The Next Chapter centers around a wedding, a bachelorette party, and a trip to Italy — proving it’s never too late to find love and celebrate life.
The Devil Wears Prada
This just in: Not all aging women have to be passive caregivers. Meryl Streep’s character Miranda Priestly may take on a villainous role in The Devil Wears Prada, but fans can’t help rooting for her anyway. She’s utterly savage and often cruel, but she has moments of vulnerability. Miranda is a career woman through and through, and she’s fiercely protective of her legacy as Runway’s editor-in-chief.
It’s refreshing to see a woman in her ‘50s refuse to let her passion for her job dwindle. Men are often applauded for this cutthroat boss mentality, while women get called names, and people label them as aggressive. It’s not always easy for women to rise to the top of their industry — and keep their spot as they age — but Miranda does just that. Not everyone agrees with her methods, but that’s just fine with Miranda. All in all, Taylor Swift’s “The Man” just about sums up Miranda’s vibe. People still quote the iconic woman years later, and Miranda would revel in that legacy.
Sometimes, when the kids leave the nest, it’s time for aging women to fly. As much of a rarity as it is to see women past their ‘50s ditch matriarchal stereotypes, it’s even rarer for Black women to get the opportunity to shine in these roles. One can only hope that Hollywood continues its trajectory to showcase diverse voices, and Alfre Woodard’s film Juanita is a perfect example.
Alfre Woodard’s character Juanita has had enough of getting walked over by her grown children and her job, and she decides to do something for herself. It’s the classic tale of taking a trip to rediscover herself and her priorities — all while dealing with subjects like race and sexism. She also breaks the fourth wall to speak to the audience, which is a fun bit we don’t often see with middle-aged characters. Though Juanita is in her 40s, her story is an example of how early society can dismiss aging women.
Welcome to Mean Girls: The twilight years edition. And no, we don’t mean sparkly vampires. Popular cliques aren’t unique to the halls of high school, and the main characters in Queen Bees hone in on this subject. Sauntering through the chambers of a nursing home, a group of women rule with sass, diabolical schemes, and wit that rivals even Regina George. These ladies curse and lust with the best of ‘em — a nice change from the often demure personalities of aging women on-screen. The film stars Hollywood icons like Ellen Burstyn, Jane Curtin, Ann-Margret, and Loretta Devine.
Driving Miss Daisy
There’s nothing better than a woman in her 70s refusing to let age take away her autonomy. Though Driving Miss Daisy released in 1989, the story spans from the ‘40s to the ‘70s. Featuring Morgan Freeman as Hoke and Jessica Tandy as Miss Daisy, both actors received an Oscar nomination. Tandy even walked away with the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The movie also took home the coveted title of Best Picture.
Not only does Driving Miss Daisy tackle the concept of retaining independence (and knowing when to accept help) during Daisy’s twilight years, but it showcases the parallels between the racism and antisemitism the duo face throughout the film. Hollywood and reality regularly depict aging characters with an unwavering stubbornness and an unwillingness to question any stereotypes they were raised on. However, Driving Miss Daisy centers on very different characters finding common ground and learning from each other.