When you see a movie like “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”, you have to wonder if they couldn’t have hired a real person who was the same age. Having Johnny Knoxville in prosthetic makeup and playing a grandfather living on the edge gives the suggestion that they wouldn’t have found a single person over 65 willing to do the stunts done in this movie. That may not be the case if you’ve ever seen Betty White’s NBC series “Off Their Rockers.” It’s safe to say that if you thought you knew what some older actors are capable of, you changed your mind after watching that show.
Whether you want to call it some kind devolution or not, the use of older people in the world of comedy for movies and TV has turned into a new cottage industry. While that’s good for older people getting work, has it progressed to doing something worthy, or just subjecting themselves to embarrassingly comedic situations?
Even if you hate to say it, the action hero genre has taken on the aging movie star when you include Stallone, Schwarzenegger and possibly more in the ongoing “The Expendables” franchise. In fact, the franchise has become a pool of aging action stars putting in their share of the production pie to ensure they still get paid handsomely. Don’t be surprised to see this franchise continue for years more, taking many of the cast’s action stars well into their 70s.
The only drawback to the above is that we’re going to be reminded those aging action stars are aging based on what they say in the script. You can’t have any piece of entertainment with an older person lately without a reference that they’re too old to be doing something outrageous.
Is there a way a movie can utilize older people in a way that shows them naturally integrating into society instead of being a burden? The most recent example of two older stars doing something emotionally respectable was “The Notebook” with James Garner and Gena Rowlands. That didn’t necessarily lead to more respected older roles for the movie stars of yore, even if the French seemed to take notice. Last year’s “Amour” might have been the French “Notebook”, but it was the greatest example ever of how older actors can be compelling leads in a movie.
It was back in the 1970s when you started to see some of the aging stars of prior decades take on Hollywood’s stigma: Playing grandfather or grandmother roles. Many of the great male stars found it tougher to work again without being forced to play a benign grandfather rather than someone more complex. It probably explains why actors like Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster didn’t make as many movies as they should have in their later years.
Older actresses didn’t seem to hesitate to play grandmotherly roles after Katharine Hepburn played one of the classiest ones in movie history for “On Golden Pond.” By the 2000s, having older actresses playing in a comedic vein had suddenly become a hot property. In fact, you can perhaps credit Betty White for that after playing comedic older roles in some movies within the last 10 years.
Her “Off Their Rockers” senior repertory, though, are very brave souls in doing pranks that even younger people wouldn’t subject themselves to. It may be the beginning of elderly people taking on crazier movie roles that are going to divide audiences on whether it helps or hinders aging actors in mainstream movies. Upcoming “Last Vegas” with Michael Douglas and Morgan Freeman might be the prime example.
“Bad Grandpa” being #1 at the box office assures more movies like it are going to be made with real older actors doing similar things. However, it seems that those willing to do it aren’t the A-list acting legends now well over 80 or 90 and perhaps watching from afar with hands over their eyes.