[Let’s see, I tried to get everyone off the silly NFL kneeling protests (just because I write a lot about something doesn’t mean I don’t think its that important), and a simple pro-civility post turned into a donnybrook. Hmmm...how far can I get from both issues? Maybe this will work…]
The Business Insider has an article about something that has bothered me for decades: Hollywood’s embarrassing addiction to pairing young actresses with aging male stars, even when it’s ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with a 60 year old man romancing a 25 year-old woman, just as there was nothing wrong about the romance between an elderly woman and a twenty-something male in “Harold and Maude.” However, the appearance of such pairings is unavoidably sexist, and cuts hard against Hollywood’s posture that it is a force for liberalizing the culture.
“American Made” premieres this week, bringing two reunions with it: Tom Cruise and “Edge of Tomorrow” director Doug Liman, and Tom Cruise and his ever-growing age gap with his female co-stars. Sarah Wright (who plays Cruise’s wife in the film) was born in 1983 just a couple months after the premiere of Risky Business, making her 22 years Cruise’s junior.
…It’s a well-known fact that Hollywood likes to pair older men with younger women. And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with an age gap between two consenting adults. According to the 2013 US Census, 4.8 percent of heterosexual married couples included a husband 10-15 years his wife’s senior. The problem, rather, is that Hollywood doesn’t really care about showcasing the stories of that 4.8 percent so much as normalizing the expectation that women are only romance material when they’re in their mid-20s/early-30s, whereas men are free to age and remain conceivably f—able.
… I crunched the numbers for every single Tom Cruise movie, comparing his age relative to that of the actresses playing his love interests over time. All told, Cruise’s age gap mirrors, and indeed confirms, the larger critique of Hollywood’s bias against older actresses. This isn’t just anecdotally-sourced rhetoric, by the way. There’s more and more statistical evidence showing how women age out of Hollywood. Time and The Pudding, for instance, do a great job at visualizing how more roles and dialogue are available to men as they age, where the opposite is true for women.
I was intrigued by this article because I just saw Cruise’s remake of “The Mummy” (and a more ludicrous spectacle it would be hard to find). Tom looks great for his age, at least a decade younger than he is, and he is inherently youthful, so it is a bit unfair to use him to make this point. How about the oogy pairing of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery (above), looking every inch of his 69 years in “Entrapment”? When Cary Grant at 60 was paired with the gamin Audrey Hepburn in “Charade,” Cary’s fans weren’t bothered, but he was: he said that he felt uncomfortable playing the romantic lead at an advanced age, and began planning his retirement. John Wayne was never a comfortable romantic lead, and while Howard Hawks made the by-play between the Duke at 52 with 28 year-old Angie Dickinson in the great “Rio Bravo” work, teaming Wayne with much younger women didn’t seem right; a few movies later, he was back with Maureen O’Hara.
The constant spectacle of such pairings as old Humphrey Bogart with young Lauren Bacall in “To Have and Have Not,” old William Holden with young Faye Dunaway in “Network,” old Gene Hackman with young Barbara Hershey in “Hoosiers,” and many more, with Cruise’s films continuing a pattern that ossifies biases and stereotypes regarding women, reinforces a cultural view of heterosexual relationships as driven by patriarchy, and perpetuates the source of devastating neuroses and insecurity among American women particularly that as they age, they are less desirable, admirable, interesting, relevant, and vital.
This is, as I have noted, an old cultural problem. I have no idea how to fix it, or even if it can be fixed.
I do know this, though: Tom isn’t helping.