From Susan Parker: Middle Age Screen Sex Is No Laughing Matter

Susan Parker
Tuesday July 06, 2004

Last week, while everyone in Berkeley stood in line to see Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, my husband and I went to the Albany Twin theater to see The Mother. We often go to this movie house because it regularly features films that aren’t shown in other locations. I’d read a review in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle about The Mother. The little bald man was jumping out of his chair, clapping. Although this action does not necessarily guarantee that the movie will be worth seeing, I decided to take a chance. The subject matter intrigued me. 

The Mother is a British import about a passionate affair between a widow and her daughter’s lover who is half her age. The review said that British stage actress Anne Reid “…deserves a standing ovation for taking off her clothes and revealing the lumpy figure of an older woman who eschews exercise and a cosmetic surgeon’s scalpel.” That quote alone made me want to see the movie although I see plenty of similar body types at the public pool where I swim. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a voyeur. But at the DeFremery Pool in West Oakland there is not much in the way of privacy or services unless you consider automatically timed showers and doors on the toilet stalls amenities. And swimming, unfortunately, is not an exercise that necessarily lends itself to weight loss or a svelte body. I imagine that most of the people who swim there are like me: Once they finish their workout they go home and eat the entire contents of their refrigerator and then ferret through their cupboards for more. Swimming is an activity that makes you feel good, but not necessarily look good. 

But back to The Mother. I went to the show with optimism because I really did want to see sex performed between a middle-aged woman and a much younger man. I’ve had my fill of the reverse, Hollywood handsome older men with gorgeous, bosomy young nymphs and I’m sick of it. Bring on the lumps and wrinkles. Show us how the Brits do it. 

But I was disappointed. Not that the movie didn’t give what the review said it would: carefully rendered shots of an imperfect, needy body and hot sex between a 60-year-old woman and a 30-year-old man. But it was the extraneous stuff of the film that got in the way and was bothersome. I can live with the unsatisfactory relationship between the depressed, lonely mother and her equally depressed, immature adult children, but what annoyed me was the depiction of a brief affair the woman has with a man of her age. The filmmakers chose to make this a laughable, pathetic alliance, one that no one in their right mind would find appealing. It is painful to watch, and a disservice to all of us who are growing old. And in case you don’t think you belong in that category, think again. We’re all going to get there. Maybe the writers and directors of The Mother believe they will die young and leave a beautiful corpse, or that a pill will be invented once they reach 35 that will keep them from entering the dreaded category of middle and old age, but chances are they will someday look like the wrinkled elderly man and woman horrifically depicted in their movie. 

In the end, The Mother does exactly what Hollywood often does, makes fun of sex between the rusty. I guess I’ll give up on my quest to see a realistic movie about this subject, and go back to swimming a lot of laps at the public pool. The next time I go to a film that claims to portray credible, candid grown up romance, I’ll do what my husband always does when viewing such topics: He falls soundly asleep and wakes up when it’s finally over.›