Long: Age gap continues to exist in roles for women

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Age means nothing. Time is relative. Love can bridge any gap.

Yeah, but when that gap is repeated over and over again in our culture, things start to look a bit ugly.

Some people were shocked when actress Maggie Gyllenhaal told The Wrap this month about losing out on a role.

“There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time,” Gyllenhaal said. “I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me.”

Quite frankly, it shouldn’t have been. Depressing, appalling, worrisome, sure. But astonishing? How could it be? The long-held double standard in which old dudes nonchalantly woo much younger women on screen is almost always playing at a theater near you.

Take “Aloha,” which opened yesterday. Or better yet, don’t, the movie’s awful. But in it Bradley Cooper, age 40, hooks up with Emma Stone, age 26. That’s a 14-year difference.

And that’s not even that bad. Also in theaters right now we have “Avengers: Age of Ultron” in which Scarlett Johansson, age 30, falls for Mark Ruffalo, age 47. That’s 17 years. Playing right next door is “The Water Diviner,” in which 51-year-old Russell Crowe wins the hand of 35-year-old Olga Kurylenko (16 years).

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last film was “Maggie,” the 67-year-old Terminator was married to 50-year-old Joely Richardson. What, there are no attractive 60-year-old actresses in Hollywood?

This is hardly a recent development. Christian Bale was 15 years older than his wife, Jennifer Lawrence, in 2013’s “American Hustle.” Johnny Depp was 49 to Rebecca Hall’s 30 in 2014’s “Transcendence” and Denzel Washington was 51 to Paula Patton’s 30 in 2006’s “Deja Vu.”

Harrison Ford was famously 55 when he romanced 29-year-old Anne Heche in 1998’s “Six Days, Seven Nights,” but even he can’t top Liam Neeson, who was 61 when he broke 29-year-old Olivia Wilde’s heart in 2013’s “Third Person.” That’s 32 years! Congratulations, Liam!

Obviously, this is all tied up with notions of female beauty petrifying over time while men age like fine wine. It’s probably rooted in some long outdated caveman beliefs about women losing purpose after their childbearing years. And is it any wonder that an industry dominated by aging men would go out of its way to portray aging men as perpetually virile and attractive to much younger women?

There have been and will continue to be many happy May-December romances in the real world, going in both directions. And not all the actors who find themselves smooching women who were in diapers while they were in high school are necessarily at fault (Johansson joined the “Avengers” franchise long before Ruffalo).

But sexism in Hollywood — in the competition for directing and writing jobs, in salaries, in terms of solid lead parts, and yes, in comparative ages on screen — is anything but astonishing. It’s the status quo. It’s also a self-perpetuating illness that reflects society as a whole. And that’s not astonishing; that’s plain sad.