MID-LIFE MELTDOWN

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

Latest posts by Elma Cremin (see all)

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! 

whileweareyoung 

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.

 

iTunes

WOOLF

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.”

 

iTunes    Netflix

 

 

LOST-IN-TRANSLATION

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.

 

iTunes    Netflix

 

 

adaptation

ADAPTATION (2002)

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).

iTunes    Amazon    Netflix

 

guffman

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.

iTunes     Netflix    Amazon

 

MANHATTAN

MANHATTAN (1979)

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.

iTunes     Netflix

WHO PUT THE BABY IN THERE??

Watch it!

Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
Watch it!

Latest posts by Kris (see all)

Each week Empire gets more and more over-the-top.  And that’s why we love it.

It’s seldom we get to see previews – which is why we write FollowTheThread.

So we were tickled hot pink (the color of Suraji Henson’s dress) when we got to go to a screening of first half of Wednesday’s two-hour finale, directed by none other than Mario Van Peebles.

We won’t spoil-er the finale for you, except to repeat: sometimes more is more

Empire is cheesy delicious. But what really hooked us is that under the outrageous plot twists it feels… really real. Refreshingly unfiltered and un-PC.  Stereo Williams expresses it well in this article over at The Daily Beast. 

After the screening, the producers (Lee Daniels, Danny Strong and Brian Grazer) and the cast cited a raft inspirations and influences – which is The Thread that informs our picks this week.

They say that success has many fathers, so this week in honor of the series finale – the antecedents of Empire.

 

Empire

EMPIRE (2015)

As Empire Records founder Lucious Lyon is secretly dying, he plants the seeds of a vicious rivalry for control of the company among the various heirs apparent:

His three sons Hakeem, Jamal, and Andre.  His much younger fiancé, Anika Calhoun.  And finally, his force-of-nature ex-wife Cookie who is fresh out of prison after serving 17 years for a drug rap she took for Lucious when they were starting the company.

Set against the ultra-glitter of the urban music industry, the show is remarkable for its “boughetto” look and for the amazing quality of the music, produced by Timbaland and Jim Beanz.

Empire is one of those shows where the casting is so vivid and dead on that the actors disappear into their characters.  It’s a world-shaker for the whole cast  – even the two Oscar nominated leads. Terence Howard is Lucious.  Taraji Henson is inimitably Cookie.  The sons are played by newcomers: Bryshere Y. Gray, Jussie Smollett and Trai Byers.

Trailer:

YouTube

Episodes:

hulu  iTunes

 

 

James Earl Lear

KING LEAR (1974)

Executive Producer Danny Strong says the first spark of inspiration came during a P. Diddy interview on NPR.  (Here in L.A., listening to Public Radio is equivalent to reading, but more socially acceptable.)

As soon as he started cooking on the idea, he went to King Lear.  No lie, even though we were comparing another show to Shakespeare just a couple weeks ago – Et, Tu Frankie.

The thread from Lear to Empire is a straight line – dying king divides up his kingdom and mayhem ensues.

Every classical actor worth his salt starts aiming for King Lear the moment he turns 55.  James Earl Jones was only 42 the summer this was shot – 4 years before Darth Vader.

Lear isn’t the easiest Shakespeare but Jones’ Lear is both powerful and accessible.

It was taped live at Shakespeare in the Park.  Three fascinating black actresses play the daughters — Rosalind Cash, Lee Chamberlin, and Lynn Holly.  All great actresses with careers circumscribed by the limited opportunities for black actresses in the 70’s.

The rest of the cast is stellar – Raul Julia, Paul Sorvino, Rene Auberjonois.

Final note: this was actually the second black King Lear at Shakespeare in the Park.  The first was Jamaican born Frank Silvera, in 1962, the Festival’s very first year in the park.

Amazon

 

Lion In Winter

THE LION IN WINTER (1968, 2003)

In the same breath as Lear, Danny Strong mentioned THE LION IN WINTER.   Get it – Lion/Lyon?

Like Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” But that’s just the start.

Peter O’Toole is the Lion, Kate Hepburn is the Cookie character – the king’s wife.  She’s been in prison for ten years.  Oh yeah, and there’s three sons, and the king and queen are still in love in the brief interludes where they don’t want to kill each other.  And there’s a younger mistress.

The 1968 feature was nominated for 7 Oscars and won 3.  For Hepburn, it was her second win in a row.

Google Play  Vudu  Amazon  iTunes

If prefer a more recent production, Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart did a TV version for Showtime in 2003.  6 Emmy noms, including one for Close.  Oddly, this one is only on disk:

Amazon  Netflix

 

Hustle & Flow

HUSTLE AND FLOW (2004)

The first time they were cast together, Howard and Henson played a pimp and his lover trying to rap their way out of the ghetto.

So when they were cast in parallel roles 11 years later, it was art imitating art.  And, as Henson pointed out in her Q&A, it gives their onscreen relationship an uncanny, freewheeling depth.

Hustle and Flow was a Sundance breakout.  Even though it’s not as soapy as Empire, it has a similar uneasy but gripping tension between authenticity and cliché.  And like Empire it might have tipped over that edge if it wasn’t for the spot-on performances.

Howard got an Oscar nom.

Google Play  Vudu  iTunes  Amazon

 

Joan in Fur

DYNASTY (1981-1989)

Lee Daniels says he wanted to bring the sensibility of his favorite childhood show back to TV.

Dynasty was a Dallas wannabe.  It struggled in its first year, but when Joan Collins arrived in Season 2, it started its ascent to #1

According to Taraji, Cookie wears a lot of fur because she’s an animal.

When we Googled “Joan Collins fur” we got 490,000 results.  We picked the mauve in homage to Cookie.

Vudu  Amazon

 

Eartha & Eddie

BOOMERANG (1992)

Although Brian Grazer is an avowed rap fan and produced 8 Mile, the Q&A made it clear that the real reason Daniels and Strong approached him to be their point man with the Network was because he produced Boomerang.

The 1992 Reginald Hudlin comedy was a breakthrough on several levels.  It showed that black business people could have success without having to throw away their sense of style.  It showed the dog getting dogged.  And it showed that Eddy Murphy could work with a real story and still get laughs.

It’s still on a lot of favorites lists.  And to us it’s emblematic of the overall tone that makes Empire so winning.  The series engages some nasty-ass issues, but it does it without taking itself too seriously.  Makes for an appealing mix.

Amazon  Vudu  iTunes  Google Play