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Film & TV

Mature women rule the big screen

Film & TV

With film directors finally recognising the box office pulling power of mature women, Susan Mitchell reviews two new – and very different – films starring a stellar cast of legendary leading ladies.

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Ever since Mamma Mia became a huge box-office success with 60-something Meryl Streep in the lead role, the film industry has begun to make more films starring mature women telling their own stories.

Women of this age make up the majority of cinema ticket buyers these days and they are hungry for their own stories to appear on the big screen.

Books clubs all over the world are also full of mature women talking about books while enjoying a glass or two of wine. It is therefore no surprise that producer and director Bill Holderman (A Walk in the Woods, The Company You Keep) has assembled a cast comprising Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen for his new film, Book Club, about four long-time friends who meet each month to discuss what they’re reading.

What mature woman wouldn’t want to see these four fabulous actresses on screen together?

Their latest title is Fifty Shades of Grey, which proves the catalyst for each woman to address not just her sex life, but her need for close companionship.

There have been some damning reviews (mostly written by men), and Book Club is not going to win any Oscars. It is a pity Holderman appears to have encouraged the stars to act it up almost to the point of melodrama. They all seem to be a bit unsteady on their pins – perhaps due to the amount of wine they consume, which is a bit of a tired stereotype with an element of truth.

Nevertheless, each woman’s story reflects a truth about mature women’s lives today.

Vivian (Fonda) plays a wealthy, successful owner of a posh hotel who fears commitment and has never married but has had many lovers along the way. Diane (Keaton) has been faithful to one man for 40 years, but he has recently died and her daughters are now pressuring her to sell up and move interstate so they can care for her.

Sharon (Bergen) is a judge whose husband left her for a much younger woman and who is tempted to go online in search of excitement, while Carol (Steenburgen) is happily married but her husband, now retired, has gone off sex. (There is a crass, over-worked situation joke concerning Viagra which the film could have done without.)

When I asked a woman coming out of the session before me what she thought of the film, she replied: “It wasn’t great but it was fun just to see those four wonderful women acting in a film together about the lives of women of a certain age.”

Many will agree, and Book Club is worth a visit to the cinema with your female mates if only because it proves the point that age is just a number, not a destiny.

Also currently showing in cinemas is The Wife, starring the timeless and brilliant Glenn Close. She is not boiling bunnies like she did in Fatal Attraction, but as “the wife”, she is boiling inside with rage.

Joan Castleman’s husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but only she knows the truth about him.

Flashbacks reveal Joan as a young creative writing student enamoured with her pompous and married professor, played perfectly by Pryce. She becomes wife number two and tries to ignore other women who seek to give pleasure to the literary giant, playing his faithful partner and keeping his darkest secret until the truth bursts out of her at the Nobel Prize ceremony.

This is Close’s finest performance yet – a controlled, subtle and powerful portrayal of the kind of rage that comes from a woman who has withstood years of hiding marital pain and deceit.

The Wife is no Hollywood melodrama. Directed skilfully and with restraint by Bjorn Runge, and adapted by Jane Anderson from the novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, it is not just close to the bone; it is the bone. (The film’s insidious biographer of the Nobel Prize winner is tellingly named Bone, played by Christian Slater – and we all know that the biographer is the Judas of the literary world.)

If you’re a fan of Glenn Close, you must see it this film. And if you are not a fan, you must see it anyway.

Dr Susan Mitchell is a writer, broadcaster, film and book reviewer and the former Ambassador for Mature Women in South Australia.

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