Sex crazed harridans & heartless cougars: how Hollywood portrays older women in film

Posted by
Stylist Team
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

We recently reported the depressing tale of Maggie Gyllenhaal, who revealed she lost out on a role because at 37 she was too old to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man - because obviously, even in 2015, the film industry at large tends to persist in perpetrating the myth of lithe teenagers and craggy greybeards.

You know, the way most relationships are in in real life.

More mature women (and by that we mean over 35 *hollow laughter*) in general get short shrift when it comes to celluloid - examples of them portrayed as sexual, attractive beings in age-appropriate relationships are thin on the ground (why is it we can only think of films starring Diane Keaton?

Thought: perhaps she has spent the latter years of her career trying to right the wrongs of the biggest ridiculous age gap perp of them all, Woody Allen?)

If the old man-young woman trope is as old as Jack Nicholson - what then of age gaps the other way around? We’ve revisited the most famous older woman-younger chap movies, to investigate…

In this, a drawling Patricia Neal is resplendent in a gnomish hat and teal skirt suit and then fabulous scarlet turban and elbow length gloves. Her style watchwords are corrugated hair, statement jewellery and snappy handbags. Read = BALLBREAKER.

Helpless struggling blonde writer George Peppard has been lured into sin with her wicked ways and in one scene, sleeps innocently in a pale pink baby blanket, while Bad Pat leaves a stack of greenbacks on his dresser and bends over him to feast on his lips while he dreams presumably, of sugarplums, in the baroque-style apartment she has fiendishly decorated like the calculating whore that she is. Later she phones him daringly with her husband in the room and a poodle on her lap, licking her lips when she says “tonight”. (SEX CRAZED HARRIDAN!)

Peppard gives her the elbow with the line “I can help her and it’s a nice feeling for a change” but it doesn’t matter as she’s an older woman and has no feelings. Next!

Let’s all just take a moment to pretend to be Gloria Swanson in animal print, statement eyewear and precious gems and say with a flourish: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” In Billy Wilder’s monochromatic classic, faded silver screen star Norma Desmond is vain, insane and has a way with artfully-tied headscarves and trailing robes that we would very much like to imitate (same goes for the cigarette holder-thingy attached to her finger).

While Gloria/Norma is drifting around her palace, maniacally signing fan photos no one wants and occasionally baring her teeth, William Holden is a man trapped by his own greed - as of course he plays another hapless, frustrated writer seduced into (we assume) Bad Things by a glamour puss with a catwalk-ready look because he needs the money. Poor baby.

As Norma unravels, he can’t resist telling her what’s what and it turns out he’s as bad at falling into swimming pools as he is at managing his own life. Shame.

Moonstruck (1987) 

The film that spawned Cher’s 1987 Oscar outfit is also notable for its 18 year age gap between the central lovers and a wild eyed and wolfy Nic Cage with oily arms and a white vest shouting a lot about his bad hand. The relationship here is not quite the eye roll of the other films of its kind.

Yes, Cage is a hapless, goofy, man-child in need of mothering (in one scene, Cher cooks him a steak and gives him a reality check and he has a tantrum and throws the table across the room) and yes, Cher’s frumpy, cardigan-wearing widow has to get a makeover before she can emerge ready for her toyboy, free of grey hair and in a nice frock and plum lipstick that we’re very glad isn’t a “thing” anymore, but for a start it’s CHER and there is also much hair and many sequins, amusing put-on Brooklyn accents and the excellent bit where Nic says “I want you to come upstairs with me and GET in my BED,” which is as brilliant as is the general madcap comedy joy.

The Graduate (1967) 

Re-watching this, the ultimate older woman-younger man film makes us certain we want to spend our twilight years assuming the character of Anne Bancroft’s Mrs Robinson.

Because what’s not to like? In the seductions scene, first she puts on some sexy bossa nova, then she waves the universal signifier of a man-hungry female, the up pointed cigarette (see also the Graduate apeing scene in American Pie), then she eyes Dustin Hoffman - here a naive adolescent, mostly wondering what the hell is going on - like prey, fiddles with her earrings and lifts up her leg to show her stocking top.

Poor stuttering Dustin is helpless in the powerful sex ray she is emitting! Later he wants to have a real conversation in bed (“Do you think we could say a few words to each other?”) and our hearts go out to this helpless boy being vamped by a temptress - he just wants to inject a few feelings into the whole tawdry affair but the heartless cougar hungry for his body just wants to get straight to it. Quite.

Age-gap relationships on screen: our favourites 

Thelma & Louise (1991) 

Dumb but excessively delicious JD aka Brad Pitt is resplendent in a cowboy hat and a rippling nut brown torso and bones sexy Gina Davis in a cheap motel in a scene we have watched 35 times just for research.

American Pie (1999)

In which a whey-faced incontinent youth in a white dinner jacket “aged 18 years the way I like it” gets it on with Stifler’s Mom in a sprayed on lilac dress and a bouncy blow dry and thus becomes a man. Right.

The Reader (2008)

Kate Winslet is being all sexy and au naturel with a teenager in the summertime and they have lots of nice baths… until her extremely dark past emerges and it turns into quite a different film.

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

This sexy coming of age road trip has two teenage boys and an older woman getting it AWN. But she’s not really that old is she. Still, Gael Garcia Bernal is in it and sometimes that’s all you need.

Harold and Maude (1971)

This cult classic takes the reverse age gap thing and runs with it into the woods. A dark but beautiful film about a young man who falls in love with a 79 year old woman, despite all. *weeps*

Crush (2001)

Just when you thought you had seen every weak chick film there was, teacher Andie MacDowell falls for her former student and embarks on an unlikely romance. It doesn’t end well.

Words: Anna-Marie Crowhurst

Pictures: Rex 

Share this article


Stylist Team