‘Late Bloomers’

Growing old gracefully is not as easy as it sounds


Is it just me or are women much happier than they used to be, up there on the digital silver screen? Compared with, say, five years ago, female characters seem to be doing well financially, getting the most out of love relationships and firmly ensconced in loving family circles. They always seem to get what they want, whether it’s a trip to Bali or a cool assignment as a CIA agent. They’re in the spotlight, effortlessly and beautifully.

Plus — and this is really important — women of today age with an amazing grace. Check out Isabella Rossellini in “Late Bloomers” for more on this sizzling topic.

“Late Bloomers” has the taste of vintage wine — a tinge of dust, a hint of mold, but with layers of flavor, each yielding some unvoiced story from the past. Rossellini, who turns 60 this year, is roughly the age her mother, Ingrid Bergman, was when she starred in “Autumn Sonata” (1978) — also about a successful and attractive woman coming to terms with aging.

The two works offer two completely different experiences. In “Autumn Sonata,” the camera lingers unflinchingly on the devastated planes of Bergman’s face; the heavy lines and the deep, old-woman fatigue swamping those eyes that had once seduced millions of moviegoers.

“Late Bloomers,” on the other hand, takes Rossellini’s age in stride and plays around with the concept that even the delicious Isabella, who only a few short years ago made a controversial TV miniseries entitled “Green Porno,” will grow old. Compared with her mother, however, what fun she has. Audacious but vulnerable and feminine to the very core, Rossellini’s performance here recalls “Blue Velvet” 26 years ago, when she made self-abandon and deviance look drippingly sexy.

Rossellini plays Mary, a retired teacher sharing a resplendent London apartment with her architect husband, Adam (William Hurt). Mary raised three kids while working, stayed in shape and is still very nice to look at — a fact which Adam appreciates and frequently praises. But she feels an enemy closing in: wicked old age; and it knocks on her door everyday.

She needs her glasses when applying mascara. She signs up for a water-aerobics class to discover that not only is she the oldest woman in the pool, she can’t even keep up with the exercises. Most wounding of all is when she walks down the street and no male heads turn her way, though she can remember a time when they were respectful enough to give a wolf whistle or two.

What’s a woman to do? Mary decides the best way is to accept the whole aging thing, but she’s determined not to go through it alone. So she pulls in Adam, reminding him every five minutes that he’s old, definitely old, and that as a couple they should adjust their lives to this mode of existence.

Not surprisingly, Adam is annoyed as hell, and does everything to reject Mary’s niggling hints and senility innuendoes. First off, he teams up with a much younger woman to take on a hefty, difficult project that’s suited to a much younger architect. Second, he ups and leaves their home. Mary is incensed, but then has an encounter with a man who professes to be attracted by the way she acts her age. Ta-da!

“Late Bloomers” is directed by Julie Gavras (“Blame it on Fidel!”), and as with that 2006 film, she demonstrates an ear for family conversations and witty, telling dialogue rife with implications. Gavras gives Rossellini plenty of breathing space, and in her lens Mary literally begins to bloom. Gavras is either infinitely kind or infinitely alert to the charms of Rossellini. Most likely both.

In “Autumn Sonata,” Bergman played a successful concert pianist who visits her frumpy daughter for the first time in years, and she seemed to wither and dry up from one frame to the next. She was a woman trapped in an irreconcilable mother-daughter situation and having to pay for many years of choosing herself and her career over her family’s needs.

Mary is free from this working-woman tragedy. In spite of her ruckus with Adam and the ongoing battle with her mirror and mascara brush, you can tell Mary is having the time of her life. And in her smile is the triumph of a woman who has met with her worst fear and put it behind her, and can now relax. She’s old, and there ain’t anything wrong with that.