Annette Bening has been working as an actress since she was 22 years old and, although complex roles for women over 50 have historically been hard to come by, Bening says, now, at 59, she's working as much as she ever has.
In an interview with Vanity Fair about her most recent role in Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, Annette Bening explained that the characters she's playing now are more interesting than they have been in previous decades. She said, "All of the stereotypes that were articulated in the women’s movement really were reflected in the movies. The good mother, the bad mother, the good girl, the bad girl, the Madonna, the whore. All of that stuff that the woman's movement in the '70s was articulating, we’re now beginning to feel the benefits of people in our culture being more accepting of a more complex, truthful view of women."
Though we're nearly 50 years past the second-wave feminist movement of the '70s, it's never too late for America — and Hollywood — to realized women have layers. This shift toward "a more complex, truthful view of women" can be seen in Bening's own film career. In 1999, Bening played Carolyn Burnham in American Beauty. Though the film won the Academy Award for Best Picture and deals with some interesting and complex themes, Bening's character, an overly ambitious woman who cared too much about her career to be a good wife or mother, feels like a bad trope.
More recently, though, she has taken starring roles in films like 20th Century Women and The Kids Are All Right, which revolve around the lives of interesting women, who happen to also be middle-aged. And, according to Vanity Fair, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, which opens in select U.S. theaters on December 29, actually tells the real story of actress Gloria Grahame, who, at age 50, "was vibrant, sexual, vulnerable, and yet discarded by her industry."
The increase in the number of complex roles available for women isn't just illustrated in Bening's career. One look at the 2018 Golden Globe nominations, and it's clear women 50 and up have given some of the most impressive performances of the past year. Off the top of our head, we're thinking about everything from Laura Dern's Renata Klein in Big Little Lies and Laurie Metcalf's Marion McPherson in Lady Bird to Meryl Streep's portrayal of Katharine Graham in The Post and Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid's Tale. It may be long overdue, but it's clear movie and television roles for women over 50 are finally starting to reflect reality.