If there wasn’t such a thing as Mid Life Crisis, some screenwriter would have invented it. We all know the classic symptoms – sports car, hot but totally inappropriate partner, selling the house for a sailboat.
But here at The Thread we think it’s more fun when Hollywood changes it up a little.
This week, a handful of our favorite meltdowns!
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (2015)
Noah Baumbauch directs what looks like an amusing and even insightful take on a couple in early midlife who try to regain their youth by befriending a much younger couple.
It’s cleverly cast with actors who can’t be midlife yet (can they?). Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a couple who befriend Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried in the misguided hopes of turning back the clock.
Stiller’s filmmaker is flattered by Driver’s admiration and throws himself into the role of mentor/friend. But very quickly he discovers that nothing makes you feel older than trying to be young.
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (1966)
Mike Nichols first film was nominated in every Oscar category it was eligible for. Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis were all nominated for Oscars (Taylor and Dennis won).
Edward Albee’s 1962 Tony winning drama is midlife meltdown as death match.
Burton plays an alcoholic academic who’s been passed over for department chair. Liz shattered her sex-symbol persona to play the blowsy dean’s daughter who couldn’t have a child. So they made one up.
After an evening cocktail party they invite an unsuspecting young couple over for late night drinks. The evening devolves into a hailstorm of barbs and insults that eventually destroys the intimate fictions that hold their marriage together.
This was the first movie to be given the MPAA tag: “No one under 18 will be admitted unless accompanied by his parent.”
LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003)
Directed by Sofia Coppola, starring Scarlett Johansson and the enigmatic Bill Murray. Lost In Translation is set in Tokyo where the duo meet. Bill is an aging actor shooting a series of advertisements for Suntory (Japanese whiskey) and Scarlett has accompanied her husband on a photo shoot.
The twist is that both are in the throes of personal crisis, his mid-life and hers mid-twenties.
When they meet at a hotel bar, their malaise is mutual. “I’m planning a prison escape; we first have to get out of this hotel, then out of the city, then out of the country,” Bill tells her. She answers: “I’m in.”
A night of bar-hopping ends in a karaoke bar. Bill’s rendition of Roxy Music’s “More Than This” is one of cinema’s great moments, turning the song into a mid-life anthem.
When they part, Bob whispers something inaudible in her ear, and they both wander off in to the night.
Will they meet again? Is this the beginning of an affair? Coppola leaves the mystery wrapped in an enigma, one of the bravest creative decisions of the early 21st Century.
Directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, the all-star cast includes Meryl Streep, Nicholas Cage, Chris Cooper (won Oscar) and Tilda Swinton.
With all the stars, a budget that was small but not quite tiny, and a house of mirrors plotline, this is one of art-house-meets-studio projects that might not get made today.
The film centers on a writer’s struggle to adapt Susan Orlean’s nonfiction book The Orchid Thief. His writer’s block becomes the metaphor for the midlife crisis that has him in its jaws. He can’t commit to a plot line, and he can’t open himself up to the woman that he has a crush on.
Then his twin brother arrives and declares he wants to be a writer.
Cage plays the writer character, who is named Charlie Kaufman. The fictitious brother Dan (also Cage) has a writing credit on the real film, even though Kaufman doesn’t have a brother. Just a little meta.
As a last ditch effort Charlie writes a movie about himself trying to write a move – which of course we’re seeing. But the events of the book are also playing out in parallel, with Laroche (Chris Cooper) and Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep).
WAITNG FOR GUFFMAN (1996)
Guffman is second only to Spinal Tap in the pantheon of mockumentary meister Christopher Guest.
Washed up director Corky St. Clair gets the chance to put on a musical to celebrate the small town Blaine’s 150th anniversary. He pins his last-ditch Broadway hopes on the musical capturing the attention of a New York critic (the eponymous Guffman).
Corky pulls the whole town into his fantasy and soon everyone is dreaming of heading to Broadway and making it big – midlife meltdown as mob mentality.
Sadly for them, the film ends in disappointment with most of the cast relegated to side jobs in show business.
This bittersweet masterpiece is the ultimate account of a rolling mid-life meltdown and Woody Allen at the height of his powers. It’s worth revisiting just to watch how Allen manages to transform a movie about a narcissistic pedophile into an argument for hope and redemption.
Allen is a successful but frustrated TV writer who knows he can makes people laugh but he wants to make people “feel”. He quits his handsomely paid gig to write a serious novel.
He left ex-wife (Meryl Streep) to embark on a wildly inappropriate affair with high school student Mariel Hemingway. But then he falls for his married best friend’s mistress (Diane Keaton). He dumps the teenager, putting on a masquerade of concern and telling her to follow her dream to study in London.
But then Keaton dumps him to go back to the friend. In a moment of epiphany, he realizes that Mariel’s face is the only thing that makes life worth living.
He runs across town to get her back, and finds her with bags in tow, leaving for London – setting up the heart-wrenching final scene in which the young girl sets the brilliant writer straight.
Whatever you may think of it after all these years and with so much Woody water under the bridge – Mariel earned that Oscar nom with this scene alone.