As one of the few successful female writers, directors, and producers in Hollywood, Nancy Meyers has been making movies for over 30 years. Her movies include many romantic comedies featuring middle-aged couples, such as Father of the Bride, Something’s Gotta Give, and the recent release, It’s Complicated.
I’d always just thought of these movies as fun holiday diversions, but a recent piece in the New York Times by Daphne Merkin, called “Can Anybody Make a Movie for Women?”, made me think perhaps more was at stake.
“[Meyers] rushed in where angels fear to tread to rescue the middle-aged and manless woman from her lonely plight. She has taken this sorry creature, who is bombarded with reminders of her vanished youthfulness everywhere she turns, and placed her in an alternate universe, where she is…desirable just the way she is.”
Even though I know how much women are pressured to look and act youthful, I was disheartened to read this belief. Merkin seems to think there’s an age between 30 and 40 where women reach their best before dates and instantly become saggy, wrinkly, undesirable hags.
If that idea is out there, then Meyers’ movies might play a more important role than I thought. Her movies tell older women it’s okay to be happy and competent, while also subtly telling younger women not to worry so much, because love can happen later.
In It’s Complicated, Meryl Streep plays Jane, a divorced mother of three who runs a bakery in Santa Barbara. One drunken night, she begins an affair with her ex-husband, Jake (Alec Baldwin), who is remarried to a much younger woman. Meanwhile, Jane is also pursued by her architect (Steve Martin).
During the movie, I noticed Jane’s relative security. While she worries about a sagging eyelid, you get the impression that she’s been getting along fine with her work, girlfriends, and kids.
Seeing her happy despite her single status, we get a different message from the traditional one that older women without men are pitiful “spinsters”. Instead, we see an example of how older women don’t need to rely on having men to be happy.
There were things that irked me, though, like how Jane and her friends demonize Jake’s wife and other younger women for “stealing” their men, and I didn’t notice a single important non-white character. Also, the characters’ happiness seemed partly due to their immense wealth.
But at the end of the day, as someone who’s feeling societal pressure to settle down and have kids at age 24, I felt like the movie gave me some license to relax and live my own life without worrying about hitting an arbitrary age where I will be doomed to live a lonely, miserable, single life. As far as fantasies go, I can definitely buy into one where I get to be myself and pursue my career goals, and when I’m pushing 60 maybe have a fling with a paunchy yet charming lawyer.
Do you think the focus on middle-aged women in movies like It’s Complicated is refreshing, or do you think these movies still tell women they’re incomplete without men? What do you think young women take home from watching these movies? Do you think the fact that the characters are usually really rich increases the pressure on women for financial and career success as well as romantic success?