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Why Is Hollywood So Scared Of Older Women Having Sex Lives?

Image: Courtesy of Lionsgate.
There are certain movies I love that make me suspect I might be a bad feminist. Annie Hall (for reasons having mostly to do with Woody Allen) and Chasing Amy, My Best Friends Wedding and Father of the Bride (parts one and two): Is it okay for me to like these films and still consider myself evolved?

At least I know a bad, misogynistic movie when I see one. And I never had any illusions about Dirty Grandpa being just that.

Because our time on this planet is valuable, I am hopeful that anyone reading this doesn't have firsthand knowledge of the flick, which came out in late January of this year and stars Robert De Niro and Zac Efron as a grandpa-grandson duo. If it escaped your attention entirely (congrats!) here's all you really need to know: Jason (Efron) is a super-uptight lawyer about to marry his prissy, controlling fiancée (Julianne Hough). His recently widowed grandfather (De Niro) wants to save him from a life of indentured nuptial obligations and concocts a scheme to get Jason down to Daytona Beach for spring break.

Grandpa — whose name is, of course, Dick — has another set of motives, too: to get laid himself. It doesn't take long for Dick to start lusting after a young coed (Aubrey Plaza) who wants nothing more than to have sex with a senior citizen. Phrases like "party some babies into us" and "I want you to tsunami on my face" actually spill from her mouth throughout the movie, which — spoiler alert — culminates in her marrying Dick and having his baby, after he manages to successfully break up his grandson's engagement.

De Niro's character also gets to be a full-on spring break sex symbol, in all his golden-years glory. He does a lot of pull-ups and performs strength feats half-naked onstage in front of hordes of spring breakers; he beats up a gang of hooligans before charming them into becoming part of his friend squad.
Image: Courtesy of Lionsgate.
Dick (Robert De Niro) squeezes sunscreen onto Lenore's (Aubrey Plaza) chest.
Dick ultimately whips out his sizable libido and knocks up a twentysomething student. The whole movie just feels like a really long, in-your-face reminder of men's continued virility long into their AARP-discount years. The 72-year-old actor is far, far away from his last fuckable day; that's the message with which this movie hits us over the head. What's more: Unlike for women, the arrival of such a day is not a foregone conclusion.

Thankfully, there have been some recent releases to counterbalance the existence of movies like Dirty Grandpa. One of them is Grandma — the indie circuit, Lily Tomlin-led flick about a grandmother on a quest to help her granddaughter raise money for an abortion. While this film doesn't specifically delve into the minutiae of Tomlin's character's sex life, she is paired up with Judy Greer, an actress 40 years her junior — a statement about the continued desirability of smart, feisty women in their 70s if we've ever seen one. Grandma is also a thoughtful look at what it means to weigh the consequences of sex — both emotional and physical — against the idea of conquest.
And then, of course, there is Hello, My Name Is Doris, which came out this month and stars 69-year-old Sally Field as a woman who has spent her whole life stunted by very female responsibilities — and suddenly finds herself madly in love with a man half her age. Up until now, Doris has been merely proximate to the pleasures of youthful indulgence, commuting every day from Staten Island to her job as a bookkeeper at a hip ad agency. As a young woman, Doris broke off an engagement to tend to the needs of her ageing mother, a hoarder who died just before the action of the film begins. Doris' life has been small and stymied — until the arrival of John Fremont (Max Greenfield), a newly hired creative director from California.

Doris is quirky — "weird," the millennials around the office warn John — still wearing a pin-in ponytail from the 1980s. Her clothes are funny, as is her general manner: She's so earnest and eager for friendship and connection that it's almost painful to watch her interact with anyone except for her two closest female friends. But against all odds, Doris and John strike up a friendship, and her bizarreness begins to read as simply being cool. Not that Doris really gains any confidence from that fact: She is so head-over-heels in love with John that she interprets every interaction as another step on the path to true romance.
Her vulnerability is hard to watch. But it's also important, because what we're seeing is a woman who knows exactly how old she is — who is aware of her arrested development and personal flaws — believe that someone so very young and handsome really could love her back. In a pivotal scene, Doris — at John's apartment, done up in a black velvet vintage number and a mini-bouffant — does her best come-hither on the bed and confesses her feelings.

She believes that it's possible things could go her way — that she can get what she wants, and that their age difference (and specifically, her age) doesn't matter. She believes — in the same way that De Niro's Dick assumes it's possible to get it on with Aubrey Plaza in Dirty Grandpa — that she could be sexy to this young hot thing. That he could want her as a woman, even with her youth in the rearview mirror.

Put another way: I know a solid, feminist message built into a movie's ethos when I see one. And after watching Hello, My Name Is Doris and Grandma, I feel a little better about the direction Hollywood is headed when it comes to telling stories about female sexuality on screen. But that doesn't mean there still isn't a long way to go on both the big and small screens. For every Hello, My Name Is Doris, there are many more movies that focus on the value of female youth — like, for example, Age of Adaline, in which Blake Lively literally never ages a single day. It's time we gave women the same on-screen expiration date for their sexuality that men have — which is to say, none.