The most shocking thing about San Andreas, the new disaster movie starring Dwayne Johnson (we’re not allowed to call him The Rock anymore — hugely frustrating given the film’s subject matter), isn’t the slightly ropey dialogue or Kylie Minogue’s cameo role as “bitchy woman of indistinct nationality” but the film’s casual choice to break a cardinal rule of blockbuster cinema.
In the film, Johnson is paired with Carla Gugino, an actor who — wait for it — is exactly the same age as him. Like a real human couple!
The pair are both 43 and, in fact, Gugino is actually eight months older yet not one Mrs Robinson joke is cracked through the entire film. A victory for feminism!
Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
I joke but given a recent anecdote from Maggie Gyllenhaal about being turned down for a role as she was deemed too old to play against an actor who was 18 years her senior, sexist ageism is still very much alive in Hollywood.
Last year, Edge of Tomorrow had 51-year-old Tom Cruise falling for 31-year-old Emily Blunt, Magic in the Moonlight saw 53-year-old Colin Firth romance 25-year-old Emma Stone and 47-year-old Jon Favreau assembled pre-sex pasta for 29-year-old Scarlett Johansson in Chef. And who did 53-year-old Julianne Moore get to make out with in Non-Stop? Channing Tatum? Zac Efron? Nope, she landed tortured sexagenarian Liam Neeson.
The one mainstream genre where age seems to be on a more level pegging is the disaster movie. As well as the leading pair in San Andreas, there’s also a frisson of romance for Paul Giamatti in the film with Archie Panjabi, at just five years his junior. In 2012, John Cusack spent the film trying to reconnect with his ex-wife, played by Amanda Peet, with just a five-year age gap while co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor ended up with Thandie Newton, who was five years older than him. And not one audience member spontaneously threw up their popcorn in repulsion!
In The Day After Tomorrow, Dennis Quaid was married to Sela Ward, separated by just three years. Dante’s Peak saw Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton kiss with just four years in between them. Armageddon had Ben Affleck using animal cookies as foreplay on Liv Tyler’s body with just five years separating them. Even last year’s largely forgettable Into the Storm saw just a six-year gap between whatshisname and onefromthatthing.
So why have disaster movies in the last 20 years managed to make more believably aged couples than other blockbusters? It could be argued that the focus is less on romance and more on something massive smashing into something even more massive but then, was sub-Hitchcockian thriller Unknown really about developing the relationship between Liam Neeson and his wife, played by 25-years-younger January Jones? Does every Mission: Impossible film rely on our investment in whichever much younger woman Tom Cruise’s character is feeding private intel to? Yeah, not so much.
One factor which could play more of a role is star power. Disaster films are usually sold on spectacle rather than talent and when they are based around an A-lister, such as Dwayne Johnson or Pierce Brosnan, matching them with another big star is less necessary in the genre. Salma Hayek recently commented on an audition where she was turned down because the male lead didn’t approve of her. It’s likely that in a disaster film, the power would be taken out of the actor’s hands and back to the studio. Their first priority would be cutting back on costs and, as harsh as it might sound, an older woman would probably be cheaper to cast.
Sadly, disaster movies are few and far between so their industry-shifting power is likely to be minimal. This year we still have to look forward to Tom Cruise flirting with 32-year-old Rebecca Ferguson in the next Mission: Impossible film and Bradley Cooper shacking up with Emma Stone, despite a 14-year age difference.
But with apocalyptic action films attempting to address the imbalance, it’s reassuring that even when the world is ending, gender equality is at the top of the agenda. After avoiding that tidal wave.
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