Greenfield-Saunders’s answer is that, at an age when boomers should be embracing their present, “we’re stuck chasing our pasts,” he said. “We’re trying to go back to the days when we were young, when we felt no responsibilities, when you never thought about what you were doing the following week.” So thrilled were we with how cool we were, he suggests, we haven’t figured out how to – or wanted to – move on. Look at Madonna. She had the zeitgeist in her yoga-strong grip; she could have shown us a new way to be 50, or at least given it a new sheen. Instead, she got a $30,000 facelift, and hung onto her disco shorts like grim death.
I have noticed small glimmers of change, however. The first is a TV commercial (as is often the case), for the Toyota Venza sport vehicle: A twentysomething girl sits at her computer and disses her parents because they’re not on Facebook and therefore have no life. Meanwhile, said parents are out whooping it up on mountain bikes with fellow aging adventurers. (Interestingly, the ad has elicited a flood of negative responses from irked millennials – on the Internet.)
I’ve also seen a few films in which the older set is asserting itself, if only a little. In To Rome with Love, Alec Baldwin plays the sage voice of experience to stumbling twentysomethings Greta Gerwig, Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page. (Baldwin’s wife is played by Carol Alt, one of About Face’s former supermodels.) In Bruce Beresford’s Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, which came out last month, a hippie mama (Jane Fonda) tries to show her uptight attorney daughter (Catherine Keener) how to love life.
In The Expendables 2, due on Aug. 17, a holster-full of grizzled former action heroes (iconic enough that the poster lists only their last names: Stallone, Schwarzeneggar, Willis et al.) prove that they can still kick butt while making terrible puns. And in Oliver Stone’s Savages, characters played by the seasoned pros Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro and (especially) John Travolta are funnier, faster, slyer and even sexier than those played by their half-their-age costars – Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch – who, though gorgeous, just don’t emit the same dangerous, knowing spark.
Interestingly, the group that seems most open to exploring the power of fiftysomethings is an unexpected one: TV creators and filmmakers 30 and under. In addition to Lena Dunham’s series, there’s the recent indie Lola Versus, written by Daryl Wein, 28, and Zoe Lister-Jones, 30: The titular twentysomething heroine (Gerwig) is dumped by her fiancé, weeps over the loss of her conventional dreams, and panics at the thought of living life untethered. It’s her cool parents (Debra Winger and Bill Pullman, swathed in chic scarves and jackets) who tell her to lighten up, have a party, and exult in exploring her options.
In the current relationship dramedy Ruby Sparks, written by the 28-year-old Zoe Kazan, the hero, Calvin (Paul Dano) is an uptight writer paralyzed by early success, who feels washed up at 29. By contrast, his mother (Annette Bening) is having the time of her life: Once a preppy-looking golfer, she is now a caftan-wearing, ringlet-headed free spirit who coos maternal encouragement while puffing on pot, and is clearly enjoying sybaritic delight in a stunning, woodsy home with her second husband, a maker of rough-hewn twig furniture played with roaring charm by Antonio Banderas.
“A lot of Calvin’s issues are about being unable to let go,” Kazan told me recently. “He’s unable to just enjoy things. Control trumps pleasure for him. I thought it was interesting to give him a mother who’s absolutely in the total pleasure of her life. She’s living just for happiness, and he’s unable to accept that.”
It seems to me that these millennials are envying the boomers for the very things boomers don’t want to let go of: their economic power, once-limitless job opportunities, and sexual freedoms. Growing up in a recession-prone, post-Internet, post-AIDS era, millennials long to feel the power they know their parents once possessed.
What filmmakers of any age need to realize if they want to reach boomers is that the most appealing, vital people, on screen and off, are the ones who do two things: tell the truth and keep moving forward. “The models who went on to do other things as they got older are the happiest and most confident,” Greenfield-Saunders said. “Lisa Taylor [who survived a cocaine addiction] is comfortable with her age, partly because she’s just happy that she’s alive.”
The woman who best sums up this idea doesn’t appear in Greenfield-Saunders’s film at all. Verushka, the 60s-era supermodel and star of Blow-Up, was the only subject to turn him down. “She wasn’t interested,” he said. “She said, ‘I don’t care about that period of my life. I’m an artist now, I have nothing to say about the past.’” No matter what the age, nothing is more fascinating than momentum.