Can We Expect to See More Grandparent Comedies in the Future?

Today is Grandparents Day. So where are all the movies aimed at Americans celebrating the holiday? Is it that we still don’t honor the occasion the way we do with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, even after 35 years of its existence? Or, is it that, in spite of always being proven wrong by movies such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Hollywood still thinks seniors don’t go to the movies?

It might be a combination, though I did take notice the other day that the trailer for Parental Guidance arrived appropriately this very weekend. The comedy stars Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as a couple who have to watch their grandchildren while their daughter (Marisa Tomei) goes on a business trip. And the humor apparently comes from the elder duo’s generational disconnect from kids today.

First question: Are Billy Crystal and Bette Midler are old enough to play grandparents now? Well, they’re in their mid-60s, which seems about right looking at it as someone who feels late to the parenting game myself. My mom and dad are in that age group, and though my kid is an infant, there are some people from my high school class already seeing theirs off to high school this year.

Still, in terms of movie role stereotyping fashion, Crystal and Midler don’t really look like grandparents. But neither do most people that young, partly because everyone just looks better these days, not just in Hollywood. 60 is the new 50, or whatever. Think about how flabbergasted everyone was to learn Tom Cruise, when turning 50, is now the same age Wilford Brimley was when he made Cocoon.

Speaking of which, it’s probably about time for a remake of that sci-fi hit and not with actors who look like Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, or even the younger-than-he-looked Brimley. Fox will want to go with celebs who are older than they look and make the plot as much about looking young as feeling young. And since much of the original film is set in a pool, it’ll probably help to have older actresses who still look great (by Hollywood’s terms) in a bathing suit, such as Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren.

Here’s why I think grandparents are going to be a big trend in movies in the coming years: the Baby Boomers are entering that time of their lives, and they want something identifiable on the screen. In theory, movies are centrally targeted at viewers who are the same age as their protagonists. But the new generation of senior citizen will prefer that the old people they’re watching are either very active (see Red and its upcoming sequel for an exaggeration of this, not to mention the whole Betty White phenomenon) or very youthful in appearance, just like them. Or how they wish they were, anyway.

I look at Parental Guidance and I think of it as a harbinger of films to come. Thirty years ago we saw an increase in plots involving men with babies, a response to the rise of women in the workforce and divorce, both of which led to more dads having to actually take care of the kids. Now, the movie stars of that era are aging, and the funny thing will be to see them with babies again, only now from an advanced stage and through a wider gap.

Remember the scene from Parenthood in which Dianne Wiest find out her daughter is pregnant and says, “I’m too young…I was at Woodstock, for Christ’s sake!”? The Boomer generation isn’t any more comfortable with age now than they were when they hit middle age 23 years ago, and I just see that situation and a variation of that very line being repeated abundantly today. Only with more slapstick.

Macho seniors will only be able to do Expendables sequels for so long before we see them in movies of the Kindergarten Cop sort that find jokes in both their bulk and their antiquity. And it wouldn’t shock me if the previously announced Look Who’s Talking reboot is really just a late fourth installment with a returning John Travolta (with or without Kirstie Alley) looking after Mikey’s newborn child.

Now, in case you’re not feeling old by this impending Hollywood trend, let’s all wish Harrison Ford a happy Grandparents Day. His oldest grandkid is currently a sophomore at Bard College, I believe. Let this realization influence your pitch for Indiana Jones 5…

Rather than a reject, Christopher Campbell is a film school dropout. But he has since gotten a master’s degree in cinema studies and has been blogging about movies since 2005. Earlier, he reviewed films for a zine (a what?) that you could buy at Tower Records (a what?). He is married with two children.

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