Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Best of Women: Look In A Mirren

Achievement in Sex-Ed: Helen Mirren
Okay, so what's the deal with Helen Mirren? I mean, clearly she's a stone cold fox, as evidenced by her being cast as The Sexy Co-star in a number of recent movies. And she's funny, as showcased by the not-so-funny-looking trailers for Arthur (in her, and Russel Brand's, defense: I would guess the source material about a billionaire man-baby comes off as a little lame in a post-economic meltdown world, but whatevs, points for trying). She has a banging bod, cheekily on display in bikinis and sundry gowns and eventwear. It's well-established at this point that Helen Mirren is an a-okay kind of gal. So, my question is: Helen Mirren, where have you been all my life? Her first film credit is from 1966, a time when my mom was in elementary school, so she's like O.L.D. for real. Her IMDB page seems to list mostly filmed BBC productions and about 57 variations on Prime Suspect, but that paints only a partial picture of a one-woman zeitgeist.

Every few years, people remember that older female acting gigs are sort of tough to come by. By "older," I mean older than 30, maybe 34. It was especially bad a few years ago, when the Olsen twins, Linsday Lohan and their ilk were involved in a Vanity Fair-led minifreakout about little girl actresses and What That Meant. VF ill-advisedly spent an issue fawning over the young'uns, which was less "Wheee! Fun with peers!" and more of a combination of "Oh my god, when can we get back to writing ceaselessly about the Kennedies?" and "creepy uncle who breathes too hard at the kiddie table." Starlets like the ones on the cover of VF do very well for a few years, then they have a series of ill-advised marriages and/or stints in rehab, while actresses wait quietly for HBO to write them a showcase show and go on to win a slew of Emmy awards. Very few women come to prominence as an older actress - most start as a nubile young things, all tank tops and magazine covers, and then go on to become Sigourney Weaver.

So it's cool that Helen Mirren seems different. She hasn't had her breakthrough North American role - I guess she first got noticed in The Queen in 2006, but her flicks like Red could best be described as popcorn movies. She garnered mixed reviews as Prospera in Julie Taymor's The Tempest, a role that took the iconic grizzled wizard role and shaped into a distinctly feminine anger. Still, she hasn't had her defining role yet; I suppose Brits would say that she is Jane Tennison, but I, like 97% of North America, haven't seen it, so I don't know.

I hope that Mirren's pop culture success can be translated into a more varied role market for older actresses. I'm tired of seeing roles like Jane Fonda's in Monster-In-Law, a catty exercise in inter-generational jealousy. TV has upped the ante with roles like Nurse Jackie and The Big C, but as audiences age, they'll want to see themselves on the big screen, too. Mirren is ahead of the curve, but I predict that the actresses who were working in both 1979 and 2011 won't be hurting in fifteen years. And it's cool that this particular job market still seems to have openings for the new(ish) folks.

I hope Mirren, and her status as sex symbol, is a harbinger of thing to come. I, for one, would be comfortable with seeing female sensuality expressed more often and with more age diversity. Seeing ladies like Mirren, and other older/still-sexy broads, teaches us that sexiness comes in all forms. I know Helen Mirren doesn't wake up in the morning and say to herself, "Today I'm going to be a role model," but we consume so many images of youth as equaling beauty; there's something subversive and wonderful about Mirren's decision to market herself as an object of sexual desire, despite the fact that she's past retirement age.

Women are sexy - not just young women, mind you, but women with kids. Women with wrinkles. Women who have gained and lost weight since they were twenty-seven. Women who have gray hair. Women who get a little nip/tuck done, and women who don't. Women who choose to wearing the plunging necklines into retirement, and those who dress more modestly. There are tons of ways to be sexy, and Helen Mirren's version, at 65 and still shakin' her tatas in Kristen Wiig's face, is pretty cool.

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