“If you think 40 is liberating, wait till you turn 50,” she said at a news conference.
“You dread it for years and then it happens and it’s no big deal.”
Pfeiffer turned 50 in the middle of filming “Cheri,” the story of Lea, a 49-year old retired courtesan in love with a much younger man. The movie blurbs like to call Lea an “aging courtesan” or sometimes “an aging beauty.” Aging, being the ouch-y operative word.
Critics gave Pfeiffer kudos for playing her actual age. I guess that’s because audiences were bound to give hard study to a 50-year-old playing an aging beauty. Critic Kenneth Turan said the movie is “art imitating life, with a vengeance.”
Actually, both Pfeiffer and Lea seem to manage aging well, at least physically. Pfeiffer’s character Lea ages comfortably, glamorously and more healthily than her friends. Pfeiffer, herself, appears to be aging beautifully, thinly, firmly and blonde-ly.
Certainly age is a theme throughout the story. Lea tells her young lover, Cheri, who is 18, (played by 27 year old Rupert Friend) to not crinkle up his nose or he’ll get wrinkles. Cheri’s mother, played wonderfully bitchy by Kathy Bates, compliments Lea on her perfume and then zings her with how much better perfume clings to the skin when it is “a little less firm.”
When her maid asks Lea what’s wrong she sighs, “You know. Age.”
The film is set in early 1900s France before World War I, a time that has a few things in common with today. Age obsession, for one. Plus, women taking lovers young enough to be their godsons, proving that cougars are not a modern phenom. And the rich and powerful, on the brink of losing it all, growing decadent and obese. Pfeiffer’s Lea is about the only fit one in her crowd, in part because she pushes the wine glass away and dines on toast and grapes while her friends’ necks grow too big for their diamonds.
Lea, in Pfeiffer’s body, looks like she goes to the gym. The chin is holding. The arms are work-out toned. In the books by Colette on which the film is based, Lea eventually lets the flesh take over and stops dying her hair. But in the film Lea’s body and face reveal only minor signs of age and they’re hardly troubling, although telling enough to be registered by the young lover.
And here is a beauty hint for us all:
Pfeiffer told an interviewer the quickest way for her to look older for the camera was to sit in the sun without makeup and not smile. When the smile drops, so goes the face.
Director Stephen Frears raved about Pfeiffer being a sport, never fretting about her looks, never asking for favors from the camera. On the other hand, Frears, who is 68, has his own aging hang-ups and says he thinks it’s more difficult for men than women to get older. The women around him seem fine with aging, he said. They’ve stopped “flapping around about their appearance all the time. I imagine it’s a great weight off the mind.”
Yes, it could be, especially if Hollywood and the rest of the media would get past their own obsession over youth and beauty.
It’s possible that “Cheri” will encourage more films that deal honestly with age. And that wonderful and realistic roles for women over 50 will continue to come along. In the meantime, don’t let your smile down.