Rom-coms come of age

Reese Witherspoon & Bobby Goldman.  Fantasy v. fantastic fact.  Film v. stage.  In common – these are two stories that give the finger to standard romantic comedies.

HOME AGAIN  –   Reese Witherspoon stars in this just-released film, written & directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, whose mother Nancy mastered romantic comedy when Hallie was still a toddler (It’s Complicated, Baby Boom, Something’s Gotta Give). But the daughter gives her story a decided spin away from her mater’s territory.

Home Again  is definitely a chick flick, but in this one the 40+ Witherspoon has a “hot & heavy romance with a younger man, and she doesn’t even apologize for enjoying it…  The woman is not some sort of creepy predator.  She’s actually just a woman & she’s appealing to a 27-year old man.”  No one would bat an eye if the roles were reversed, but in Hollywood this story probably came across to hardened script readers as way out there in fantasy land.

Reese disputes Home Again qualifies as romantic comedy (rom-com) – she’d call it a modern comedy, although I can’t figure out the difference.  She also has a bone to pick about the low ebb in films featuring women in genuinely lead roles.  “I grew up with Holly Hunter & Debra Winger & Diane Keaton & Goldie Hawn.  Where are the women who are the stars of their own movies?

Ah hem…  Those four actors have not slunk off to do community theater in Scarsdale or Pasadena.  They are right up there on the silver screen.  Along with Helen Mirren & Meryl Streep & Glenn Close.  So, come on younguns – films ARE being made with roles for strong female characters, they are just being written for mature women, not pre-menopausal chicks.


CURVY WOMAN   ~    Movies & the theater are paying attention to the richness of older female characters & actors.  Producers realize that they WILL bring in good audiences if the material matches winning performances.  How else to explain the success of Curvy Widow, an off-Broadway it about a 60+ widow facing the dating world.

Curvy Widow thrills me to my core.  Not because of plot line, songs or performances.  Because it shouts to the rooftops the qualities that hallmark so many 50+ entrepreneurs – her creativity is rooted in her personal experience (the death of her husband), necessity (to get past her devastated life), a willingness to take risks & to be wildly innovative.  All traits of older entrepreneurs!

The play’s material comes right out of Bobby Goldman’s personal experience.  Left  devastated by the death of her husband, playwright & screenwriter James Goldman (Follies,  A Lion In Winter), she seeks grief counseling.   Her therapist’s suggestion on how to move forward is echoed on stage – “Have sex.”  

As recently as the turn of this century, people would have squirmed at the thought of a joyfully sexually active 50+ woman.  (Some of my own contemporaries were shocked that my mother spoke tenderly of missing SEX with Dad.)  The new millennium saw an equally  new view of older women, showcased by Goldie Hawn & Susan Sarandon in 2002’s The Banger Sisters.  Over the past ten years, it’s been proved time & again that audiences were ready to consider Bill Nighy being swept away by Judy Dench.

Enter Bobby Goldman.

Bobby was telling a friend – who happened to work at Random House – about her online dating adventures (her handle – Curvy Widow).  The friend saw a great tale in her unconventional & exhilarating experiences.

Drew Brody, who wrote words & music for the show, heard about the Widow Goldman through a mutual friend & she sent him a writing sample from her Curvy Widow manuscript.  She was thinking “play” NOT musical.  When she heard his plans, she gave it an adamant thumbs down.  Brody was shocked at her response – he thought the material screamed MUSICAL!!  As attested to by the brisk ticket sales at the Westside Theater, he wooed & won the lady’s approval.

Veteran Broadway performer Nancy Opel could not resist a role in which she gets to play a 50+ woman embarking on a barrage of romantic encounters.  “Nobody writes shows about 50-, 60-year old women, unless they are crazy or terrible or drunk.”  Her character leads her male co-stars in a merry dance.

Art reflects life – the character of the husband dies in the the middle of the first number.  The audience gets a sense of his widow’s personality as she puts the charges for the funeral on her credit card, asking in wonderment, “You mean I could get miles?

Brody says that it was the first time he had to tone down a character – it seems that Bobby looms large.  And she makes no bones about preferring to date married men, although it leaves her dateless over holidays.  Her reasoning is simple – she finds widowers too needy & eager to return to old patterns.  (She does occasionally date single men, but not often.)

Bobby believes that a lot of 50+ women don’t want to give up the life they’ve carved out for themselves, want companionship but hold no desire for marriage.  It comes, for her at this point in her life, with too big a price tag – “I think I was a great wife because I did everything in the world for him.  I lost myself completely.”  Not any more.

Success comes with its own price, but one Bobby is willing to pay.  On a date at Peter Luger (sigh…  a dream destination of mine), the wait staff sent her over a bottle of Champagne, putting her date’s nose out of joint; he left.

I am sure she finished her steak (what else would you order at Peter Luger!?) & enjoyed every sensual bite. Bobby Goldman expects to have a good time & usually does.  Amen, sister!