First things first: I realise that feeling an affinity with female stars over 40 might not be something men feel. Both in the sense of an affinity with women; and also in feeling a similar camaraderie with male stars over the age of 40. This is, of course, because there are so many of them. You can’t go around getting excited whenever an over-40 man gets a leading film role/hosts a TV show/brings out a new album because then you’d live in a permanent state of excitement, like a puppy or a small child or a Radio One DJ. Successful men over 40 are the status quo. Literally, in the case of Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt.
Such events are comparative rarities, however, for women – very sadly – which is partly why I’m so delighted whenever they occur. It feels as if every triumph of a famous over-40 female is in some small way a triumph for all of us. A small triumph for me, too.
I realise that when Meryl Streep picks up her awards she doesn’t mention me in her thank you speeches (I’ve tried telling her about it, but no: she continues to forget). And I am yet to receive my invitation to Jennifer Aniston’s wedding (Jen – call me!!). But now that I’m over 40, I feel connected to these women, by dint of the fact that we are in some sort of club. A club that’s FIGHTING THE AGEIST, SEXIST PATRIARCHY – with occasional breaks for gin and tonic.
I’m mentioning film actresses a lot because the cover story of the current issue of The Hollywood Reporter (apparently – I live in Brockley and thus there is a dearth of THR in our local newsagents) is all about the success of over-40 female stars in Hollywood; and as Catherine Bray notes in this recent article about the same subject, nine of the top 10-earning actresses in 2012 were at least 37 years old. Which is almost 40, right? (Remember: maths is not my strong point.)
The most obvious explanation for the success of these leading fortysomething actresses – such as Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz – is that they all became stars in their 20s, and their pay packets have risen as they’ve gained more experience and greater box office clout. That they’re continuing to be successful and powerful in their 40s is reassuring in itself – but one can only hope that this clout is maintained as they get older and that Goldie Hawn’s famous observation “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood: babe, district attorney and Driving Miss Daisy” will, one day, no longer hold true. Especially the ‘babe’ bit. Although the woman that played that pig WAS terrific.
Of course, women in – or over – their 40s being successful and powerful shouldn’t be a big deal. But the fact is there’s still a long way to go. Another recent statistic showed that, out of the top 100 box office films of 2012, only 28% of speaking roles went to women (worse still: when they did speak, it was only to say “Help!”, “You’re my hero” and “It undoes like this”). The thrill of possibility that followed the successes of Bridesmaids (a film which proved that – shock, horror – you could have a comedy in which the protagonists just happen to be women) and The Hunger Games (a film which proved that – shock, horror – you could have an action film in which the feisty, occasionally violent, protagonist could be a young woman) seems to have died before you can say ‘Action!’. And as The Village Voice points out in a follow-up piece to the Hollywood Reporter story, by the time Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy’s comedy The Heat is released this summer, it will have been 84 (count ‘em!) days since the last major studio movie came out starring a woman. 84 days. 28%. You can’t argue with the maths. (Including six seconds: I think that was about the length of time Alice Eve stood in her underwear, for no apparent reason, in Star Trek: Into Darkness.)
But back to my close personal showbiz friends: the fortysomething female celebrities. As I say, there is no particular reason why I should be happy that Naomi Watts’ movie about Princess Diana is coming out – especially after seeing the first trailer. Or why I’m delighted to hear that Penelope Cruz will be a Bond Girl at the age of 40, and thus, for the first time in 007 history, be remotely close to the age of Bond himself (Daniel Craig is 45). Or why I’m secretly rather chuffed that Kristin Wiig turns 40 this summer and thus JOINS OUR CLUB *rubs hands*. But I feel all those things – and I feel them not because I’m a particularly huge fan of their work (OK, I am a huge fan of Wiig; just less a fan of Naomi Watt’s wig). I feel them because I, too, am a fortysomething woman. And because we’re all over 40, somehow we’re one.
(Note to self: Pitch idea to Hollywood for buddy movie called ‘Over-40 Club’. Tagline: “The first rule of Over-40 Club? You can talk about Over-40 Club, probably for too long if you’ve had a couple of glasses of white wine”)