The Age Old Question

Special effects aren't the only illusions in the movies.
July 22, 2008
Everybody on here at one point or another has been told to act their age. Some of us scream, others can't handle pressure and still others break down weeping...In most of these cases, they're told to be more adult.

What is a kid and what is an adult, anyway? It's an odd question, I know, but it's something I think about a lot. All the movies I've seen have complicated the issue further. Older actors playing younger and younger actors playing older...It causes me to think about what age means. Is it really nothing but a number?

I would like to start off with actor/musician Kevin Bacon.

This versatile and well-connected (forgive the pun) actor was born in 1958. He made his film debut the year he turned 20 years old with his role as Chip Diller in "Animal House".

If I'm correct, filming started when he was 19. Many people who go to college don't go until they're 19. They want one last Summer before going back to school (and yes, college is school...It's just different from grade school). I imagine that Chip wanted that last bit of fun before going to Faber College to be beaten into acceptance ("Thank you, sir! May I have another?"). He carried an attitude about him that many young people just entering the collegiate world have...A sense of wonderment and fear.

6 years after playing a collegiate, at the age of 26, Bacon played high schooler Ren McCormack in the 80s favorite "Footloose".

Even though he was 26, I could believe that he was a high schooler. Why? One word: rebelliousness. Ren, a dancing man if ever there was one, is in a new town where dancing is forbidden by the church. I've heard of confining rules, but that's just pushing it to its' outer limits.

What do you do in a situation like that? Easy: Dance and dance, converting others to your cause until the time for overthrow of outdated and antiquated rules has arrived.

I mean, haven't you ever felt strait-jacketed by some of the rules you had to live by in your school years? Haven't you ever wanted to rise up and say "Fuck you"? That's what Ren does...Well, through his dancing, at any rate.

In this movie, Ren has a girlfriend named Ariel, played by Lori Singer, who was actually 27 when the movie was released.

Despite being 27, I could buy her playing younger as well, because she so accurately represents the flip-side of the school experience...That of the tired and distressed student who goes through a lot at home. Her father is the local preacher, Shaw, played by John Lithgow (who, in real life, is only 12 years older than Singer).

Shaw is emotionally abusive towards the entire town with his preaching of fire and brimstone. Look, not all Christians are like this, but Lithgow plays the role of a religious jerk perfectly. These proclamations can have an effect on your family life, and Ariel displays rebelliousness in her own way. This can easily be seen when she's the flag girl for a game of chicken being played between several of the town's youth. Ren brings out her strong side, and she's alongside him as dance returns to the town.

You know, dance can be seen as a representation of youth. Dancing is athletic and doesn't require much to think about...Many youth are like that as well. As you get older, weight impacts you on all levels, not just physical ones, but mental and emotional weights as well. Dancing then becomes harder and harder, but there's something of the dance within us all. Perhaps this is where the phrase "young at heart" comes from.

Lori Singer's character in "Footloose" was named Ariel. You can all see where I'm going next.

I couldn't do an article like this without mentioning my all-time favorite Disney movie. Ariel is in her teens, and she represents the segment of young people who, to paraphrase Sebastian, "Think they know everything". Her anger at her father isn't really all that different than the outbursts that teens of both genders have when dealing with the rules of the world at large.

As stated, Ariel is a teen, but the woman who voiced her wasn't. That woman was Jodi Benson.

Benson was 28 years old the year the movie was released, but being a voice-over talent allows for more leniency. There are voice-over actors in their 50s who can still do the voices of young kids, so naturally, a 28-year-old (at the time) voice-over actress could voice a teenager.

The voice is what I think is able to make you believe that Benson can be a teenager. Her voice is in that area between the squeaky tones of pre-teendom and the maturity of adulthood.

The songs are part of it as well. I've oftentimes written about the song "Part Of Your World", and to me, that's a song that's symbolic about where many teenagers are at.

Not everybody is popular...Not everybody fits in. There's a need for acceptance and respect that doesn't come easily.

I find myself thinking of the following lyrics:

"I wanna be where the people are.
I wanna see, wanna see them dancing.
Walking along on those,
What do you call them? Oh, feet.
Flipping your fins, you can't get too far.
Legs are required for jumping, dancing.
Strolling along down the,
What's that word again? Street.
Up where they walk, up where they run,
Up where they stay all day in the sun.
Wandering free, wish I could be,
Part of that world.".

Now, putting the nautical references to the side, I think that most everybody has wanted to be part of one world or another. That's especially true in the case of teenagers. Whether it's the nerds who want respect or the jocks and cheerleaders who want to be thought of as more than all body and no brains, part of being young is wanting to fit in with those around you, to be something more than what you're perceived as. Benson's vocals and the movie's script express those sentiments quite well.

These stories are thought of as unrealistic, but to me, there is realism in it. The realism is that at one point or another, everybody will get respect, if not from others, than from within. Sometimes the only person who respects you is you, but that's one more than you would've thought.

Another movie that comes to mind is the classic "Back To The Future".

Now this is a rather unusual case. Michael J. Fox plays the lead role of Marty McFly while Crispin Glover plays his dad George McFly and Lea Thompson plays his mom Lorraine.

In real life, Glover is actually almost 3 years YOUNGER than Fox and Thompson is only older than Fox by 10 days.

George and Lorraine McFly in 1955:

George and Lorraine McFly in 1985 (Before Marty goes back...I couldn't find any good pictures of them after Marty comes back):

I can believe that Glover and Thompson are Fox's parents in this movie by the way their characters act when they're older.

At the beginning of the movie, they carry themselves as rather sad individuals. When one gets older, sadness becomes a part of life. You see your loved ones dying, you see yourself expanding in the mirror, technology and pop culture pass you by...George is consistently caving in to all the pressure around him, while Lorraine walks around the house in a drunken stupor. It's often up to your children to help you out, just like Marty does with his parents, although he almost disappears in the process.

Of course, it helps that Marty is rather level-headed for being a teenager.

The type of youth that Marty is is that of the cool guy. In this case, cool means keeping a level head...Most of the time. This is best evidenced when Principal Strickland (James Tolkan) literally gets in Marty's face when calling him a slacker.

Standing nose to nose, you can feel yourself in Marty's shoes when Strickland says "No McFly ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley".

This is how Marty demonstrates his coolness. He simply says "Well, history is gonna change". Although Fox was in his early 20s, I can easily believe him to be a teen. It's all in the attitude. His is a reflection of the man who says "Fuck it...I just do what I do and I can't let him get to me". I wish I could be like that. I'm working on it with my psychologist, but I still have a long way to go...A really long way, if a recent session was any indication, but anyway...

Speaking of attitude., I would now like to say a few words about "Fast Times At Ridgemont High".

This is a movie that has many adults playing kids, but somehow, they can pull it off.

I'll start with the most obvious example, that being Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli.

Penn turned 22 the year that this movie was released, but he does a credible job at playing a teenager. The type he plays is that of the party-hardy teenager. You know, I often hear of how kids are worse today than they were back when the people saying these things were younger. It's a frequent theme on this site and it isn't necessarily one that I agree with. You know, youth has always been rebellious.

Everybody has done outrageous things at one point or another during their lives...Some people are just more honest about it. That's what Spicoli is...He's honest about his partying. Whether falling out of a van with marijuana smoke accompanying him like he's the star of a concert or having a pizza delivered to class, he parties hard 24/7 and we've all known someone like that at one point or another during our lives...Right?

Two other characters I would like to mention are Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) and Mark "Rat" Ratner (Brian Backer).

Both of the actors were born in 1956, but I can believe them playing younger because I can connect to their characters on a personal level.

I've always been somewhat like Ratner. A friend more than a partner, a nice guy who can be too nice or too mean at different times...I see a lot of myself in him. Damone reminds me a lot of a friend I once had named "Bruce" (Name changed to protect the innocent). He was a real operator on all levels...He always seemed to have possessions about him and he was quite the ladies' man as well. I was envious of that, especially because my girlfriend had designs on him (as detailed in my piece "Don't Call Me A Poser"). He didn't take the bait...Instead he kept moving on, going through women consistently. Damone didn't really seem to have a heart, although he gained one near the end of the movie. "Bruce", on the other hand, seemed like a pretty heartless individual in retrospect. He would be here one minute and gone the next. He moved away a few years ago, and I never got a chance to say goodbye to him. That's the major difference between me and "Bruce" and Damone and Ratner, but I can still relate to them anyway. There's always a certain amount of envy in friendship, and their friendship was a reflection of real life for me.

To end this discussion, I would like to talk about Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley in "Beverly Hills Cop".

This is another case of younger playing older, at least to my eyes. Eddie was 23 years old the year that this movie was released, but Axel was originally supposed to be older, primarily due to the fact that Sylvester Stallone was one of the first people slated for the role of Axel.

Instead, Stallone made the musical comedy "Rhinestone" in 1984.

This discussion isn't about him, though. It's about Eddie. Axel is supposed to be older. I can chalk this up to the fact that his friend, Jenny Summers, is played by Lisa Eilbacher, who in real life, was born in 1957.

If Eilbacher were born in 1957, and she's playing a schoolmate of Axel's, than that would mean that Axel would've been born in 1957, also.

Okay, so there's not much of a difference in age between Eddie and Axel, but the attitude is something else. When you're in your late 20s, you've usually worked through most of your maturity issues. If you're in your early 20s, you're still connected enough to your teen years to be somewhat immature. I can believe Eddie in his early 20s playing a cop in his late 20s because of the script.

Yes, Axel has a penchant for accents and wise-ass jokes, but that doesn't necessarily make him young. There are plenty of comedians in their 50s and 60s who engage in those same behaviors. He does get outraged at times, but who hasn't? There are plenty of older people who get furious at what's happening around them. One needs only watch the evening news to see the anger of the people in the stories, many of whom are parents, grandparents, or just older altogether,. Finally, the catalyst for the movie is seeing his friend die. Most of us have seen at least one friend die during our lives, and that happens at all ages.

Upon thinking about it, maybe age is just a number after all. You have teens who act rationally and adults who act immaturely, and the other way around. There is no concrete definition of what age is. It's all in how you carry yourself. The only difference between these movies and real life is that the movies are scripted and our lives aren't. We all reach an end eventually. It's the contents of our lives that count the most, though, so write it and act it to the best of your abilities. Who knows what'll happen when it's all over?

Any thoughts, guys?
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