27 January 2017

The dearth of middle-aged heroines


In a 1994 interview with Charlie Rose, author and actor Emma Thompson shared that her ambition is to write as she gets older, and to write about being older. “Women reach their most powerful and often their most interesting in their fifties and sixties, and I don’t see any movies about women of that age,” explained the thespian. Incidentally, I chanced upon the interview during the time I was reading Mario Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, which chapters alternate between the main story and installments of radio serials featuring “a man in the prime of his life, his fifties.”

The number is intriguing. Terrifying, depending on your mood. There is this expression I learned from childhood and I wonder if it’s still being used today: “Lampas ka na sa kalendaryo.” It implies — as how I understood it back then — that you have reached your thirties without having done anything meaningful yet, such as raise a family. The clock ticks faster.

It seemed worlds away when you were little, until you hit 30 and, Bam! Still no clue what on earth you are doing living with your parents, not identifying as an adult. I’ve always thought that a person’s best years are in their twenties, that’s why hearing Thompson and Llosa talk of much older interesting men and women lifts my spirit a bit.

A bit. Because despite their words and the many who claim, “40 is the new 30, and so on and so forth,” there aren’t enough narratives to convince me (or am I not looking hard enough?). A novelist told me before that Young Adult Fiction is popular because all of us have been a teenager, and we prefer to dwell in younger times. Youth sells. But midlife and old-age are fascinating mysteries as well. What do people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s do? What are their struggles, their fears and desires? What is their language?


When Repertory Philippines offered a preview of its 2017 line-up of shows, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang stood out with a promise of everyday, relatable drama interwoven with clever gags. The story revolves around three siblings in the throes of midlife crisis. Vanya and Sonia manage mundane lives, while Masha is an enviable celebrity who has just got herself a boy toy named Spike.

Me and Miss Cherie
Rep’s production stars legendary kondtrabida, Cherie Gil as Masha. “I accepted the part for so many reasons,” says Gil, who describes Masha as “playful” — a departure from the the characters she’s been associated with, even pigeonholed into. “I want to do something different, comedy naman. Here I get to work opposite a young man and touch a young man’s body,” she cackles after racking her brain. “I was never cast in soaps with a leading man because the bitch never gets the man. At least in theater I can be more versatile and play wonderful roles such as this.”

There’s my cue to ask if she agrees that there’s a dearth of good roles for women her age. “I agree” is her quick response. “In fact next year I am co-producing a film with the same producers of Heneral Luna. It’s again a comedy — I want to break the ice and look at things in a light-hearted way — about a middle-aged woman and the journey that she goes through,” shares Gil, believing that a lot of millennials would like to know where they’re heading, “not to give them fear, but to know what they have to deal with in that stage.”

Like undeniable physical changes. “Whatever you do right now, do it to the hilt,” she advises. “Exercise, exercise, exercise. Because there will come a point when no matter how much your mind wills, the the body does not want to cooperate. When you get older, you have more ideas, more space in yourself to want to do things, to share, contribute. If you’re fit and have the stamina, you can still do anything.”

Blessed with an enormous amount of sense of humor, Gil adds menopause to the list of things ladies can look forward to in their fifties: “It is also something that I am embracing. I address it. I’m not in any relationship right now, so at least no man has to deal with that!”

Another reason Gil is eager to be in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is her connection to and appreciation of Masha. Both are actors undergoing midlife crisis to begin with. “It’s great to be able to play around that truth and laugh at it,” notes the star. The parallels between the two, however, go deeper. “We represent the strong woman, standing by herself, without the need of a man. Hey, we’re not gonna lie about this, a woman would love to have a man. And that’s why Masha goes to five failed marriages and a boyfriend. But if she finds herself alone, she will learn to accept that.” She continues with the slightest pause in speech, “I personally would love to have someone to be with, walk with, watch a movie with, have dinners with. But I’ve come to terms with that. I’ve allowed (not having someone) because I guess by destiny and maybe subconsciously this is how I really want to be in my life.”

What’s nice about conversing with a more mature woman is not the wisdom you gather but rather the recognition that you are more alike than different (she only got there first). Gherie Gil is as energetic and fun — funny, actually — as the next adolescent you’ll meet. She’s intimidated by new technology, yet admits to being paralyzed without her phone. She lights up recalling the joys of her generation, while stressing how wonderful it is to live now — even be a middle-aged woman now. “It’s a good time to recreate female roles that are more empowering and it’s a nice period to be born and be in midlife,” she says, “because women are beginning to step up to the plate.”

—Originally published on GIST

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