To Botox or not to Botox—that is the question facing aging female actresses these days, at least those whose names don't rhyme with Beryl Sheep (and even her character in It’s Complicated drops in on a plastic surgeon). But men age, too, and not always gracefully. The difference is, women are usually shown as responding to impending dotage by changing their looks, while men respond by changing their behavior.
While the male midlife crisis has long been a trope of literature (and the pop-psychology section), for a long time male actors have gone on playing the same swashbuckling roles well into their 60s (note to Harrison Ford: enough already). But several new films (and a TV series) portray men grappling with middle age and its discontents. In Ray Romano's new TV show, Men of a Certain Age, three friends deal with the dark side of 40 in various ways, none of them entirely unexpected. In Greenberg, Ben Stiller puts a particularly dyspeptic spin on the standard midlife crisis, and in the upcoming Solitary Man, Michael Douglas denies death by hitting on his daughter's friends and forbidding his grandson to call him Grandpa.
Judging by its title, you'd think that the movie Handsome Harry was going to buck this trend. The death of an old Army buddy prompts the title character (Jamey Sheridan) to embark on a road trip to see his remaining Army pals. Viagra jokes and dark nights of the soul ensue. Harry is played by a younger actor in the flashback scenes (as are all his former friends), reinforcing the idea that he's no longer the young, fit, dashing young man he used to be. (Though Sheridan looked OK to me, one of his friends tells him he looks terrible.) But for all his midlife crisis-ing, he seems fairly unconcerned with the effects of time on his body. We never see him gazing into a mirror, pinching at extra folds and wrinkles the way female characters do to signal age-induced distress. When he returns from his road trip, he muses about getting a new house, not a new face. The ending of the film is ambiguous, but if Harry does change his life as a result of his travels, he will look much the same doing it.
Old age, Maurice Chevalier said, is not so bad when you consider the alternative. (Bette Davis preferred to say that getting old isn't for sissies.) Still, it's nice to see men even acknowledging the fact that they are no more impervious to the effects of time than women, and far preferable to watching actors seeming not to notice that their female costars are now young enough to be their granddaughters. It might be nicer still if actresses, when faced with the question of how to spend the remaining sand in the hourglass, got to hit the road (or hit on their sons' friends) instead of staring wistfully in the mirror and enviously at their younger counterparts. Nicest of all might be to see men of a certain age and women of a certain age in the same movie together.